Recognizing Idolatry

By on September 2, 2013
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 By SUSAN E. RICHARDSON

“Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols,” (1 Samuel 15:23). 

“Of course, we don’t have problems with idolatry these days, right?” Ken was up to his usual teaching style and we in his Sunday School class knew better than to answer a rhetorical question like that. “You don’t have a little shrine in your house with a statue of Zeus or some other god, so you don’t have a problem with idolatry, right? But what about the idol sitting in your driveway?” The room remained still and quiet. “Or the one that you live in or that you keep in the bank? We may not make statues, but if we’re not careful other things can become idols in our lives.”

Since my car was several years old, I didn’t have much in the bank, and my house was older than I was, I found it easy to take the point but not worry too much about how idolatry might be in my life. But then I came across this verse from 1 Samuel in my Bible reading one day.

I’d been guilty of both rebellion and stubbornness. I’d rebelled against the Lord for years, and I was still guilty of being stubborn as I refused to let go of the things I needed to release. Having rebellion and stubbornness compared to witchcraft and idolatry brought home how seriously God sees these things.

Maybe the comparison puzzles you, too. Why would God compare these issues to sins as serious as worshiping idols or practicing witchcraft? Perhaps because rebellion involves turning away from God and demanding to do things our way. Witchcraft includes the same thing: making things come out according to our desires rather than trusting God. Either one is a refusal to trust.

The second part of the verse gave me more food for thought. At first glance comparing stubbornness to idolatry seemed a little extreme. The more I considered the verse, though, the more I began to see why the prophet compared it to idolatry. Perseverance can be good. We need a lot of that to get through the journey to recovery. But when stubbornness involves refusing to let go of things we need to relinquish, those things are more important to us than God.

Hosea 7:13-14 says, “Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak lies against me. They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.” The phrase “they speak lies against me” grabbed my attention with this passage.

As if that wasn’t enough, I came to the next part of the verse, where God longs to redeem, but could not because they spoke lies against Him. I wanted to deny having spoken lies against God, but I couldn’t.

The fear and the idols and the lies I believed all worked together. I had to admit how much I had strayed and rebelled before God began bringing me healing. I had repented, repeatedly, with tears, each time I realized how far away I had turned. Finally I was opening my heart, and the Lord was bringing pieces to me where I needed to repent more deeply.

If we’re not worshipping statues of some kind, we may think we’ve escaped idolatry. God looks more deeply. He wants to be the focus of our heart and resents anything else in His place.

Nor is idolatry easy to relinquish once we’ve recognized it. Following Jesus runs counter to everything we’d normally choose to do, especially those of us who have experienced being hurt. But God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He is merciful, working only as much as we can stand, yet continually calling us closer to Him.

As you spend time with the Lord asking Him about these things, write down the issues He begins bringing to mind. You may find that each one opens up into a whole set of subjects you need to deal with. Piece by piece He will work in you.

Lord, the change may be beginning to come. Thank You that you’re patient with us, even though You abhor this sin. Thank You for the fact that You keep loving and encouraging us even as we refuse to change. Continue to give us Your strength for the journey.