The first thought that comes to mind when I think of idolatry is of the Israelites wandering the desert after being freed from Egyptian slavery. When they no longer seemed to need God (and Moses was otherwise occupied), they forgot Him. They looked for comfort in other things. Aaron crafted a nifty golden calf and like an Egyptian god, many rather quickly came to also accept it as one. Believing it had delivered them from captivity, they soon worshiped this god of their own making.
We can recall this story and see how foolish the Israelites were. How ungrateful they were to God who freed them! They rejected God who created and loved them. They should have known better. They did know better. Yet, they placed this golden calf above the one, the only true God. We shake our head, pity them and maybe feel smug comfort in knowing better. Yet, many of us do the same thing.
In our modern society, many false gods are worshiped. Not only worshiped, but raised above or even replace God. What are their characteristics? We:
- study them fervently, learning much about their dogmas
- align our will with theirs
- spend our time in the pursuit of their goals
- spend our treasure in their support
- evangelize in their name
- often place them first above all else with uncritical rationalizations
- can be addicted, they consume us
Examples are varied and numerous: pursuit of money, drugs (including alcohol), spectator sports, participant sports, crafts, unions, political parties, jobs, sex and many more.
These are not necessarily evil when kept in their proper place. In fact, they can be necessary and even good. We need our jobs and the money we earn to support our families, a glass of wine with dinner may be healthy, no harm is done enjoying a ball game, social justice supports unions and demands political involvement, sex in the context of marriage is beautiful.
Yet often, we go too far. People will give priority to the golf course or tennis court over going to church. Santa and all the secular traditions may receive far more family attention then Jesus and Christian traditions. Drugs and alcohol can cloud our minds, obscuring God’s will and blocking the Holy Spirit.
Think of some “sports nuts” you may know (or yourself, if the shoe fits!). They know schedules, players, standings, gossip, draft picks, odds, injuries, coaching changes, plays, strategies, history and so much more. They commit significant time to television, season tickets, sports magazines, buying apparel and memorabilia. They are fully immersed and fully committed.
Looking over at the other side of the ledger, how committed are these people to their faith? Do they know it, study it, attend and/or teach classes, put going to church ahead of games, participate in ministries and put God’s will first? ANSWER: some do and some do not.
Our passions need not be at odds with our faith. They need not consume us to the exclusion of God. When our interests are always subordinated to our faith we are safe. Always means always however. When we only sometimes place these interests first, we are fashioning our own golden calf and denying God just as the Israelites did.
Sometimes we are literally given a choice to follow God’s will or to turn away from him. No other place is as black-and-white as the voting booth. This trial is played out every two years or so. The labels for our choices may read “John Jones” and “Suzy Smith.” One truly opposes abortion while the other supports the choice to kill our innocent brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the later may be in the political party that generally fits our view. The real choice we have is not in voting for John or Suzy. The ballot may as well be labeled “God’s Will” and “Deny God.” Most Catholics pull the “God’s Will” leaver, but not all and that is truly sad.
Do you idolize false gods? If so, rethink this while you still have time.
“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.