I’ve been thinking about idols recently. When I say ‘recently’, I mean for the last few years. And when I say ‘thinking about’, I mean that exposing the idols of my heart seems to have been a big theme for God in that time… Evidently it is a major project!
This week I was led to a Bible passage that gave me some fresh insight on the whole topic. Isaiah 44:6-23 starts off with a declaration by Yahweh, the God of Israel:
“This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” (v.6)
“Yep,” we say to ourselves. “I’m totally on board with that. So far, so doctrinally true.” We know that there is one God. We read about Him in the Bible, we pray to Him, we sing worship songs to Him. Why are we even having a conversation about idols?
Calves and Carpenters
Listen, creating idols is as easy as falling off a log. Take the Israelites – 600,000 men (not to mention the women, children and animals) walk through the Red Sea without getting their feet wet, and the Egyptian army pursuing them on their chariots is completely swallowed up. It’s a dramatic and miraculous rescue by their awesome God. The Israelites burst into a song of praise – “Who among the gods is like you, Lord?” (Exodus 15:11) … and three seconds later they are building a golden calf out of their earrings.
We smile to ourselves. Those silly Israelites.
Isaiah 44 goes on to paint an equally ridiculous picture. It describes in derisive detail the process of fashioning an idol out of metal or wood – ‘The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker…’ (v.13). It points out that from the same lump of wood, half is used as fuel for the barbecue, whilst the other half is venerated as a divine being – ‘Half of the wood he burns in the fire… From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”’ (v.16-17). It is laughable. It is meant to be.
But before we point the finger at those naive Old Testament idolaters, we need to realise that this passage is also speaking to us.
What… me, too?
How many times have we put our trust in something other than God to save us? How many times have we worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator? Or, to put it another way, what do our desires/fears reveal about what our hearts are resting on?
• If only this person liked me, then I would feel secure (their approval will save me)
• If only I looked like that, then I would feel confident (this diet/hairstyle/makeover will save me)
• If only I could get this grade on the exam, then my life will work out (success will save me)
• If only I had the latest iPhone/a bigger house/those shoes, then I would be happy (my possessions will save me)
• If only I had a boyfriend/husband, then I would feel loved (this relationship will save me)
What is it for you? My idols tend to be other people. Up they go on the pedestal of my adoration, and I am consumed with trying to win their affection and approval. I am a slave to their opinion of me. A kind word and I’m elated. A brush-off and I’m having major abandonment issues. Our need is desperate. Our fears all-consuming. And so we work harder and harder to try to get our idols to save us. We pour every ounce of ourselves into trying to be likeable, looking a certain way, studying, shopping, seeking out potential partners, etc. No wonder we feel exhausted – ‘…he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.’ (v.12)
And so as I read Isaiah 44 this week, it was with recognition and a heavy heart. I know my idolatry and I struggle to rid myself of it. I know the Lord deserves my pure and unadulterated worship, but my wayward and foolish heart gets entangled in the false promises of other gods. Then I got to the last three verses of this section. “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant…” (v21) – “Oh, here we go,” I thought. “Here comes the rebuke.” I braced myself.
How little I know my Lord.
“Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (v21-22)
Such grace. Such sweet, surprising, undeserved love. Like the first warm day in spring, like beautiful music, like seeing the face of a loved one after being apart, these words flew into my heart and lifted it up in grateful joy. I remembered my Redeemer and suddenly all was made right again.
This is the God who saves. Not a god of my own creation whose powerlessness leaves me aching and exhausted. No – my Creator, whose strong and everlasting arms have stretched themselves out on a cross in order to sweep away all my sins, including idolatry, and are stretched out in loving welcome to embrace me.
Apart from Him, there is no god.
If this is a topic that has struck a chord with you, and you want to think further about it, then I recommend reading No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.
Vicky became a Christian at 17 after her A Level Biology teacher told the class about Jesus. At university she learnt a lot about the Bible, for which she is very grateful, but in recent years the Lord has really captured her heart. She lives and works in Cambridge as a university admissions officer. She loves making music, watching movies and spending time with friends and family