Truth in Love — 21 August, 2022 — George

Idolatry, it’s an ugly word. It brings to mind all sorts of things from witch doctors and voodoo to all kinds of ancient rites including human sacrifice. Scripture warns us against idolatry. But, seriously now, in this age of enlightenment, who actually worships idols or icons any more? The answer might surprise you. There are many religious groups today who are actively involved in idol worship; from the obvious ones like Krishna and Buddha, to the less obvious ones like the cross or the flag of a nation. And don’t misunderstand me here, I’m a Patriot who proudly flies the flag every day that reminds me of the price that was paid for my freedom and I have a little cross on a necklace that I sometimes wear to remind me of the price that was paid for my freedom from sin. I’m not saying that flag waving or cross wearing is idolatry. I’m reminding us that even seemingly innocuous things can turn into idols if we allow them too.
In First Samuel, chapter four we see just such an incident. The Israelites are at war with the Philistines and they have been defeated in battle, losing about 4,000 men. The leaders of the Israelite army come to Shiloh to get the Ark of the Covenant and carry it into battle with them so that the Lord can fight their battles for them. Do you see the problem here? God can fight their battles from wherever He must, but they thought they needed to bring God’s power onto the battlefield. Yet we know, as they should have, that God is not actually and physically enthroned between the cherubim on the ark — that was symbolic. At any rate, the elders of the people somehow thought that by bringing the ark into play, it would get God involved. And it did.
When the Israelites saw the ark, they rejoiced loud enough to shake the ground and shake up the Philistines as well. They were terrified that there were mighty gods within the Israelite camp. But eventually battle was joined, the Philistines won, and they captured the ark. Why? Scripture isn’t specific, but I believe it was because the Israelites had made an idol out of the ark of God. Instead of praying to God or praising God, they brought the ark and praised it. You see it’s possible to take something that has inherent religious value and turn it into an actual idol. And many people still do this today. There are those who worship a bone — supposedly from John the Apostle or a splinter of wood — supposedly taken from the cross of Christ, or a shroud from Turin. There are people who venerate supposed saints and even worship Mary, the mother of our Lord. And the list goes on.
Whew, that’s a relief for most of us. You thought I was going to talk about the idols of identity, money, material things, status, physical appearance, alcohol, etc. But I’m not going to go there at all. Let us just be careful to recognize that many times the New Testament warns of being seduced by the things of this world to the point where they become the most important thing in our life — which is, by definition, idolatry.