Sex, Wealth, Power and Self: Identifying the Idols of our Time

Posted by on Sep 20, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment

The Bible says a great deal about idols and idol worship. They are non-threatening passages to read, largely because they seem to have little to do with us, and we can therefore quietly smile at long gone eras who found the pull to bow the knee to idols of silver, gold and brass, irresistible. It is of course startling that the ancient Israelites would dance around a golden calf, when they had experienced Yahweh’s help and provision time and time again… But that was the Israelites for you. You could never depend on their ongoing loyalty beyond next Tuesday – and scripture records many instances of their betrayal of the God who had so often saved and rescued them.

Why did they find such pleasure in their defiant refusal to adhere to God’s instruction to bow to no idol and to have no god but God? From my 21st century perspective it seems pretty perplexing. What was the appeal of the clearly inferior religions followed by Israel’s neighbours? Why did they prove such a temptation?

Perhaps going over to the dark side was a way of hedging their bets, or perhaps it helped the ancient Hebrews to feel part of the mainstream. The religions of the other nations had fewer strings attached. They didn’t constantly challenge you to be your best self – indeed, they often encouraged you to be a pretty average self. A visit to the local temple was often also a visit to the local brothel, with temple prostitution widely practiced. I guess a playboy version of religion would be pleasing to many, and the Israelites were not immune to its charms.

Play it forward to today. Idol worship is largely defunct, even though having a Buddha statue in the house is becoming a new fashion statement. But are we really free from idols? While statues of Baal or Dagon have long disappeared, we continue to worship at alternate altars. What are they?

I think the four most prominent are sex, wealth, power and self. These are the four gods of our age, and often Christ followers can be lulled into thinking they represent life at its fullest.

A reality check is useful here.

If we want to be mainstream, we have to adopt the mantra that sex is life’s highest joy. Suggest anything else, and there is a sympathetic assumption that something must be wrong with you. It is why classic Christian disciplines like celibacy are now dismissed as repressive and out of reach. But before we get too carried away by this idol of our time, let’s remember that Jesus was celibate. So next time we say we want to be like Jesus… No, I am not suggesting that married couples should desist from intercourse, but just want to ask if we haven’t fashioned church life so closely around the assumptions of family life that we forget that the founder of our faith would have to be part of our churches singles program.

The pull to be mainstream is also likely to see us lured towards wealth. Embedded as we are in the most materialistic culture in all of human history, it is easy to understand why we might be tempted to associate wealth with God’s blessings, but again need to be reminded that the founder of our faith would today be advised to attend our budgeting classes. After all, he had to perform a miracle to pay his tax, and was constantly relying on gifts from others.

Then there is the power question. Climbing the career ladder seems a necessity, especially if it means that we will have greater and greater control (power) over decisions made and the direction of our life. Again, it is a little perturbing to be reminded that if we really want to be like Jesus, we might have to wash the feet of others. It is hard to imagine a less powerful posture than bowing before someone and cleaning the grime off their toes.

And what about self… In a ‘you deserve it’ era – where what’s in it for me is the automatic default question, a quick look at Jesus’ agenda is sobering. Actually there were often things he wanted… Like a quiet day of prayer alone. The vast majority were denied him. There was always another interruption. And Calvary was hardly an act of self fulfilment. It was living with the consequences of the prayer, ‘not my will, but Thine be done…’

So is idol worship passé? There may not be a golden calf around the corner, but the pull to false gods is as strong as ever. And when we hear the seductive strains of sex, wealth, power and self calling, let’s remember some Jesus truths. Want to be like Jesus… Well he was the celibate, poor, foot washing, saviour. If we follow him, is it possible we might be called to a comparable path? And if not, who are we following?

Nice chatting…

One Comment

  1. Thank you Brian. Good reading to help me with my day. Walking and talking with my Lord. God bless David.

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