When God and Religion Become an Idol

Statue“And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” – Mark 9:47

We enjoy making idols of things. We put aside the living God for something else and make that something else our god. Idols are important to us and give us comfort for so many reasons, but mostly because they’re safe. It’s dangerous to love the Living God. He challenges us and requires our obedience. While he reveals himself in many ways he also remains a mystery, particularly when we’re struggling and suffering and feel we need him most. We’re most vulnerable in these times of suffering and frequently believe God is distant and unavailable. Idols aren’t like that, they’re safe gods we can control and manipulate. We can mold them into whatever we like and use them to do whatever we need. We control them like the force in Star Wars and only need to be as obedient to them as we want. They demand no radical change from us as as the true God does.

I have made idols out of so many things in my short life. Early on I made idols of music and the rock-n-roll scene. This lifestyle became my god and the many musicians from the different rock bands became the saints of this false religion. As I grew older psychology and academics became my gods, and the saints these gods provided for me to emulate were Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, Aristotle, and Plato. I worshiped these gods and gave homage to their saints.

As I grew older I found myself replacing one idol with the next. I become proficient in my job and prosperity become my next idol. I had to sacrifice to this idol some very important people, particularly my time with my wife. I set her needs aside so I could work as many hours as the “goddess prosperity” required. She was a demanding goddess, but she rewarded her priests well.

It wasn’t until later in life I come across the most illusive idol drawing me further from the true and living God than any of the previous ones ever could. It wasn’t until I believed I found the God of Jesus Christ that I actually made an idol replacing him. You must understand, this god was the craftiest and most confounding god of all. I created him well, too well, and he consumed me more than all the idols I created in the past. He was the idol of religion.

When I believed I found Christ and made him my Lord and God, I become a fundamentalist in the practice of religion. I adhered to the dogmas and religious rituals of my denomination and embraced the smoke of incense, the taste of ritual foods, and the sounds and sights of ceremony as if my life depended on their consumption. I uncharitably addressed other Christians and non-Christians alike as less than worthy of God because they didn’t adopt my practices and beliefs. This god of religion become an idol I never recognized because of his likeness to true religion and true faith. I became like this idol and as the psalmist echoes I become deaf, dumb, and blind to the true God:

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!” – Psalm 135:15-18

It took some time for true God to break my heart and pull me away from this false god. By losing my religion I discovered my God. By embracing a living relationship with Christ I became transformed and became the man God wanted me to be.  Understand, it wasn’t that the rituals, practices, and teachings were bad, it was the fact I made them more important than knowing and personally experiencing the true God found in Jesus Christ.

I started this reflection with a passage from Mark because it reminds us of something very important. Sometimes we read this passage and find it harsh and difficult to comprehend. Surely Christ isn’t asking us to rip our eyes from their sockets. Perhaps we’re not supposed to literally rip body parts from our physical selves, but certainly those things closest to us can be the very things keeping us from Christ. Ask yourself this question. What’s keeping you from knowing Christ more intimately? What’s between you and the living grace of God? Is it your denominational practices, your interpretations of scripture, or your ministry? These may seem like admirable practices, but do they get in the way of what God wants to do through you? If so, rip them out before they become idols repacing the living God with a dead god leaving you lifeless. I’ve been there, and I pray all of you never have to endure the numbness this dead gods creates in your soul when life in Christ is merely a breath away.



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