Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, said that “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God.”
It’s an interesting statement, because we all know what it is we are supposed to cling to and rely upon; the ultimate devotion in our lives is supposed to be reserved for God Almighty. However, sometimes, when we aren’t careful, our ultimate desire gets misplaced and we move from worshiping the one True God and instead give our worship and place our trust in some other thing. This is what leads to idolatry.
We often think of idols as nothing more than rock and stone. Idols appeared in temples or shrines as representations of some foreign/fake god. Since idols are nothing more than rock and stone we often don’t worry about idolatry as a temptation. Most of us have never been tempted to bow down to a statue. Most of us have never been tempted to form an idol out of rock and place it in a shrine in our house as the object of our worship. Because of that, we give very little thought to the commands to avoid idolatry because we assume those commands are no longer relevant.
But an idol is not just a statute crafted from rock or stone. An idol is any sort of created object that we look to for ultimate purpose and cling to with all of our hearts.
There is a clear distinction between God and everything else. God is divine, everything else is creation. God, the Creator, formed all that is; meaning that everything else is inherently less than God. God is supreme above every other thing. Only God can provide our needs. Only God is worthy of our praise. Only God can provide meaning and purpose in life. When we look to something else for our ultimate fulfillment, that is idolatry. When we believe that it’s only when we achieve some specific recognition or position that we will be complete, that is an idol. When one thing (career, family, money) becomes our sole dedication or most important in our lives, that thing has become our idol.
Idolatry is wrong because it changes the order of what is most important. With idolatry, the roles get reversed between Creator, and creation. Instead of worshiping the Creator who is above all things, we worship the creation, something that can never ultimately fulfill us. Instead of offering praise to the one in whose image we are made, we offer praise to some thing that is created. Instead of seeking to fill the void in our lives with God, we seek to fill the void in some other way.
Ultimately, we will worship that which we ascribe with great value. If our family is our greatest value, our family is the object of our praise. If our career is our greatest value, our career is the object of our praise. If beauty, power, fame, money…is our greatest value, that thing is the object of our praise; and the idol we worship.
This means that idolatry is still a very real struggle. We may not be tempted to bow down to rock and stone, but we are very much tempted to look to some other created thing to fill the holes in our lives. We are very much tempted to believe that some sort of recognition, achievement, position, or object will somehow ensure our happiness and make us whole. This temptation is very real in our culture, and when we look to something besides God to make us whole, we have fallen into idolatry.
Perhaps we should return to Luther’s quote from earlier, whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God. So what is it? What is your God? What is my God? What is it that controls our thoughts and is the desire of our hearts? What is the object we most desire? Is it God? Does our heart beat for God knowing that God really is all we need? Or, is there some other object that we desire and seek? Do we seek power? Money? Relationships? Prestige? What is most important in our lives?
God desires to be supreme, we are to make no idols that compete with God.
So, who is our God?