How would I react if the person working next to me came into the office one morning and set a box on his desk, telling everyone that his god was in that box? How would I respond if he opened the box and took out a folded paper figure and said that this figure was going to make him a great success and fulfill all his needs? How would that person respond if it was me who had the box?
The idols forbidden to God’s people in the Old Testament were carvings created by men and carried by oxen from one place to another. In a description from Isaiah 46, God says “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
When laid out in such certain terms, the foolishness of worshiping an idol is clear. However, idol worship can creep into the heart of anyone. As John Calvin said, the human heart is an idol-making factory. We were created to worship, to seek a god that would meet our needs. While we don’t carve idols in our culture, even Christians can fall into the worship of things like money, prestige, people, ideals, education, sports, and so on.
Our less obvious idols even bear some resemblance to what God says about these visible and man-made carvings. For one thing, they are carried like burdens by those who worship them. The person who thinks that fame and fortune will rescue him from all troubles becomes captive to the idol they worship, serving it with all his heart and soul, but that idol like all idols cannot deliver . . .
They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity . . . They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. (Isaiah 46:1–13)
Instead of carrying the burden of an idol, God calls to us: “Listen to me . . . (you) who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
Then He adds, “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?”
The gods of then and now may resemble one another, but nothing compares to the true God, the one of whom Jesus said, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . .” (Mark 12:28–31)
Idols, then and now, are useless. Anything that seems to be powerful about them is an illusion. They are completely unable to pay back any of the homage we give them . . .
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)
Whatever I rely on instead of God is an idol that cannot deliver. It cannot forgive me, wash away my sin, or make me a better person that is equipped to minister to others. Nor can any idol make the claim of being the only God who stands alone and is superior to all. How foolish to create a god to replace the one who created me and sustains my existence.