Idols of Our Own Making

Augustine wrote, ” O poor soul, how you debase yourself when you love earthly things.  You are better than them!  Only God is above you and you were made to love him only!”

God – the God of the Bible – is the Creator of all and leaves no room for any other imagined deity.  He is eternal, uncaused, self-existing and absolute perfection, and nothing can be added to him or taken from him.  No other being is its own cause.  No other being rivals the One True God.  In the Ten Commandments we read,   

6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.  ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5

That message is repeated throughout the whole of Scripture.  The Christian believer is to love and serve Him as Lord and as God; there is never to be any place given to any other god, idol, or power.  Further, we are to worship and revere Him as He is, as He has objectively revealed Himself to us in His Word, and not merely as we might wish or imagine Him to be. Idolatry, at times incorporating the religious influences of the pagan nations around them, and ultimately essentially forgetting the One True God, brought ruin and destruction to the Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 44 conveys a key and powerful message:

 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.

The superiority of God over idols is the main point of this writing of Isaiah, proven by the ability of God to foretell the future.  At the end of the chapter is a detailed prophecy of events fulfilled more than a century in the future at the time of writing, and throughout the writings of Isaiah there are a number of very detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled.

And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.  Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”

Other “gods” made by men are idols that cannot see, speak, hear, or even do what humans can.  The ancient workmen who created idols from the natural elements of creation were mere men who could make nothing superior to themselves. 

Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
10 Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up; Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.

12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.

13 The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.

15 Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.”
17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
19 And no one considers in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”

Nothing could be more foolish than worshipping something made of metal or wood or other materials of creation.  Idolatry is declared to be a deception, which profits nothing and brings judgement.  The chosen Jewish nation failed to maintain strict loyalty and obedience to God.  Few of us, either individually or in our churches, have any sort of statue or image that might be considered an idol, but too often we too are given to very real idolatry. 

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.”  Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”   To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it.  Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives.  Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”  Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes. 

But all idolatry is not so obvious.  John’s statement to believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols,” is perhaps a contrast with reference to “the true God” in verse 20, essentially a warning against false teachers and false teaching.  A god who is not the god of Scripture becomes in effect an idol, a false god, and the god of growing segments of perceived evangelicalism is just that, a false god of their own making.

“Lovers of self” leads the list of Paul’s description of the last days in the 2 Timothy passage; if unrepentant self is loved and admired it is an idol.  This has been forgotten by a broad part of the church with people often essentially encouraged to be “proud,” “unholy,” and “lovers of themselves” by the church.  God isn’t championed as the living sovereign God of Scripture, holy, righteous, just, intolerant of rebellion and sin, while also love and grace and mercy; but rather merely as accepting and loving as defined by human reasoning.  The gospel that is presented is broadly a man-centered gospel of happiness, hope, prosperity, and success; Jesus the life-coach. The Jesus of history becomes a divine source of inspiration and timeless wisdom but not the source of salvation through His atoning death and resurrection, for a god of purely human-defined love and acceptance requires no atonement. There is little mention of the sin of man and his utter helplessness in turning to God for salvation.  Jesus is frequently referred to in literature, sermons and teaching, and especially in music in terms of filial or erotic love; Jesus the divine boyfriend.  Compromise and secularization of the church is justified by saying that this is necessary to appeal to a broader segment of society and attract the un-churched.  Pragmatism rather than revealed truth becomes a driving principle, with churches that warn no one of eternal judgement or teach that anyone should repent of their sins. As a result of these compromises they are no longer worshipping the living God but are worshipping an idol of their own making.  This is idolatry as surely as bowing down to a statue.

Ideology often becomes, in effect, an idol embraced by the church.  Patriotism and love of country is a good thing, but it can never be allowed to displace the gospel as the dominant theme of the church, and at times this has become a problem in conservative American evangelicalism.  But God, as it were, is neither Republican nor Democrat.  Themes of socialism, “social justice,” critical theory, multiculturalism, and leftist-Marxist ideas have begun to gain acceptance in the perceived evangelical community; these ideas are completely antithetic to the gospel.  The god envisioned by those who accept these ideologies is not the God of Scripture but rather an idol, a god of human making. 

“Jesus” must be the Jesus of Scripture, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who came to atone for the sins of all who will repent and believe His gospel.  The prosperity-promising Jesus, the sin-affirming cosmic boyfriend Jesus, the life coach Jesus, the inspirational philosopher Jesus, the example of divine love martyr Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Jesus adapted to fit the culture of the day – these are idols, abominations to God.  The Jesus of the Bible will be all or nothing, Lord and Savior, and anything else is a lie and a deception. 

John Calvin (Institutes, 1.11.8) rightly said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”  Just as idolatry brought disaster to the ancient Jewish nation, it will bring disaster to us. 

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” 

1 Corinthians 10:6-7

Whose World Is It Anyway?

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and that He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.


My wife and I were unable to have children for reasons that were never diagnosed.  We were able to adopt and have two healthy, happy, now grown children.  We brought home our daughter from the hospital the morning after her birth, and four years later we brought home our son the morning after his birth.  After a couple of years of marriage, our daughter wasn’t yet expecting, and my wife began to despair that she might not ever become a grandma.  But, eventually, our granddaughter was born, beautiful and healthy and happy!

But not all stories in life end well. Why do children become orphans?  What does one say to the person whose child is not healthy, whose business fails, whose spouse is unfaithful or abandons them, or who receives solemn news from their physician?  Why does the crusty old reprobate live to be age ninety, while the kind faithful man dies at age forty?  Why do bad things happen to both good and bad people?  Why is the world full of disaster and plague and poverty and injustice?  We at least sometimes find ourselves answering such questions with an honest “I don’t know.”

An understanding of the teaching of the Bible teaches us that God created the world, the universe around us, and us.  God created all for His own glory, for His own eternal purposes.  He displayed His great wonder, power, and surpassing majesty in creation.  But that was just the beginning.  He allowed sin to enter creation, and disaster followed.  Bad things – catastrophic things.  When humankind sinned, God displayed His nature far beyond what was displayed in creation.  He displayed grace.  He displayed love.  He displayed forgiveness.  He did not destroy creation; instead He began to unfold the eternal plan of redemption.  Christ was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world to be the requisite sacrifice.  At the appropriate and predetermined time in history, in Christ God did something so startling that we cannot completely comprehend it.  He Himself atoned for our sin.  He satisfied divine wrath and justice.  He forgave the sins of those who would merely turn to Him in faith and repentance, made possible by Christ.  It is His world, and He has supremely displayed His grace, love, and forgiveness to us when He chose to redeem us.

We must remember this to maintain any sort of perspective on the progression of events in the world as well as the events in our life.  God is – God.  He is Sovereign over all of the affairs of time.  He is never taken by surprise, and nothing that happens is out of the control of His ultimate divine purpose.  The author of Psalm 90 reflected on this concept:

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn man to destruction, And say, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night.

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days! 15 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, The years in which we have seen evil. 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children. 17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.

God is above time and not limited by time.  He is the eternal God, not measured or limited as we are.  He sees all of time as one event, and all that happens in time happens ultimately for His divine purposes.

To acknowledge this doesn’t fully solve all of the related philosophic questions we might consider.  The whole concept of good and evil, why God allowed sin and evil, is in some sense impossible for us to comprehend.  Why are some saved and many lost?  What is the divine purpose in allowing many to be eternally lost?  Why have empires arisen and fallen throughout time, disasters and misery occurred throughout history, billions of people been born and died without hearing anything of the gospel?  In truth, we cannot completely fathom the answers to these questions.

In a more personal sense, it is important to remember that all events are under the control of divine providence, and so the events and challenges in our life are ultimately traceable to our Father and His divine purposes.  Sometimes we can see testing in life’s difficulties; the Psalmist wrote in 11:5 that “The Lord tests the righteous,” and this concept is found throughout the pages of Scripture.  Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from the trials by which faith is strengthened.  He knows our tomorrows as well as we know our todays and yesterdays, and thus we can trust Him with what tomorrow will bring.  While we might acknowledge this principle of being strengthened through trials, in truth it is often difficult for us to see any value in the “bad” events that happen to us.  “How can this possibly benefit me or anyone else or bring glory to God?”  Perhaps steadfast faith in acknowledging His grace and sovereignty in such circumstances supremely brings glory to Him.

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.

A recent hymn reminds us,

Our sovereign God by His own word
Sustains this world and reigns as Lord.
No angel, demon, sinful man
Can change His course, restrain His hand.
O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.

When the fullness of the time had come,
God sent His own beloved Son
To keep God’s law, live in our place,
To bear our sin, guilt, and disgrace.
Dead in our sin, estranged from God,
We fled as rebels from His love.
In sovereign grace He made us sons,
And saved us from the wrath to come.
And saved us from the wrath to come.

Before our birth He planned our days,
Laid out our course, ordained our ways;
The moments of our lives He weaves
So all the glory He receives.
To those He loved before all time,
To all He called in grace renewed,
He cannot lie, His word is true,
He makes all things to work for good.
He makes all things to work for good.

He has written history’s final page,
His Son’s return will end this age.
The Lamb will come in glorious might,
Take back His world and end its night.
How deep the wisdom of our God;
Unknown, unfathomed are His ways.
None counsels Him, or knows His mind;
We bow before Him all our days.
We bow before Him all our days.

O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.