Idolatry is substituting human love for the love of God. Human love by today’s definitions covers everything from lust to noble tenderness, from pornography to pizza. While these definitions may be broad in scope, this kind of love falls short when measured with the love of God.
God’s love is eternal. He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3) The love of humans might be extended to our idols, but the idols are not obligated to love us in return. Money or the things it buys cannot love us, and adored humans may not even know we exist.
God’s love is merciful. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . .” (Ephesians 2:4–5) Idols might build our ego or make us feel important, but they cannot lift us from the deadness of sin, forgive those sins, and give us eternal life.
God’s love changes who we are. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1) Human love can set the heart sailing and produce delight and joy. It can make a man change diapers and a woman wash dirty socks, but it cannot make us a child of God or change us so much that the world cannot figure us out.
God’s love does much more. Even the following short description is far beyond the reach of human love . . .
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)
Because of Jesus Christ, this “love of God is poured into our hearts . . .” (Romans 5:5) and as Christians obey Him, He pours it from our hearts into the lives of others This is the huge difference between human love and God’s love — the focus. My love focuses on me, on what the object of my love can do for me, what benefits I get from ‘caring’ about someone or something else that I’ve put on a pedestal. The love of God benefits me too, but it is not about me. His love is about others, about loving Him and loving those made in His image.
Love from God is transparent, open, a ‘being myself’ kind of love that trusts God entirely. Because I know that He will meet all my needs, even my emotional need for love, I am free to do whatever He asks in relationship to others. This includes sacrifice of time, effort, money, anything that will show love to them. This love includes grace (giving when undeserved) and mercy (giving even if the opposite is deserved) and loving like God loves has an eternal focus. There is no trace of “what’s in this for me now” when God’s love flows through His people.
If idols could love, they would lap up the attention or affection given them to build their own sense of importance. Idols cannot and will not give back without full consideration for themselves. God is not like that — and Jesus Christ proves it.