God is in the idol smashing business. Scripture and experience show this to be true. Much of the Old Testament is taken up with the story of Israel falling into idolatry and God confronting that idolatry through the prophets and the judgment of the surrounding nations.
The first two of the Ten Commandments deal with the issue of idolatry:
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3–4, NASB)
Few of us in Western Civilization literally bow down before an image and practice what we would consider idol worship. But that does not acquit us from the charge of idolatry. The decent into idolatry is subtle and can go unnoticed.
How then can we know when we are falling into idolatry?
When you find yourself thinking, “if only I had _____, then I would be happy,” it is likely that you are falling victim to idolatry. The blank will be filled by different things at different times, but if it is a person, place or thing other than God, it is idolatry.
Why would God be so hard on those who succumb to idolatry? I believe it is because God understands better than we do that the person, place or thing to which we look for fulfillment will eventually disappoint and frustrate us.
In a fallen world, things break or get used up, places have their bad points and people will eventually disappoint you. Even the best of us experiences failure, bringing disappointment to those we love. For this reason, God seeks to reorient our focus on himself, because he is the one person who will never disappoint us.
Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us that those who mourn are blessed. When we understand that creation is fallen and we participate in and contribute to that fallenness, mourning is the proper response. A line written by Wendell Berry about his farm illustrates this.
“My aim has been to go against its history and to repair the damage of other people. But now a part of its damage is my own.”
When we have this proper sense of mourning, then it will be less likely that we will fall into idolatry. With this corrected perspective, it will be easier to realize that God is the only person who will never disappoint us. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul tells us that “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:10)
May the perfect come soon.