To be sure, the above mentioned form of idolatry is seeing a growing presence in mainstream America. But more often than not, idols are not so obvious and so neatly packaged. They are most often seated in the heart and wreak all sorts of havoc therein. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, says, "If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol."
I first encountered the concept of the idol back in college. I had struggled my entire life with a poor self-image and a distorted view of my own body. This struggle led to a pretty serious eating disorder in high school. By the time I was in college I was, by the sheer grace of God, on the healing end of things, but still struggling a bit with a body that seemed out of control and with an agenda of its won. One late night as I was studying for finals I broke down and consumed what, to me, seemed an excessive and gluttonous number of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Two. Panicked that I had "let myself go" and that I would blow up like an inflatable mattress and forever live through life as an overall-clad Jabba The Hutt, I went into the bathroom and made myself throw up.
Keller points out that "Idols give us a sense of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares. What do we fear the most?" At that point in my life I feared most being fat. I feared most that the result of my indulgence, those evil 400 calories. Having fat legs was a fate worse than death.
God is indeed the God of Perfect Timing and he knows that subtelty can be lost on me. A bit distraught at what I had done, I went back to my desk and flung open my Bible in one of those desperate swipes, eager to read anything that might fix the growing uneasiness and despair within me. I looked down and there it was, with flashing lights and bells and whistles and the 2x4 ready to hit me over the head if I happened to miss it:
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. — Jonah 2:8
I fell on my face before God. Never had my obsession and my fear been pointed out to me so clearly as an idol. And never before had a had such a fear at forfeiting the grace of God and throwing it away for something so worthless.
Not long after that I stumbled across Isaiah 50:10-11:
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.
I was struck with how often, when I don't see God giving me what I want or working in my life the way I expect, I just forge right ahead of him, lighting my own fires instead of trusting him in the dark. Forfeiting the love and trust of a sovereign God to get what I want and think I need because he isn't delivering the goods will only end in disaster.
Again, Keller points out that "...an idol is something we cannot live without. We must have it, and therefore it drives us to break rules we once honored, to harm others and even ourselves in order to get it. Idols are spiritual addctions that lead to a terrible evil."
No wonder the first commandment is this: You shall have no other gods before me. God knows that anything else we put before him will ultimately destroy us. Only he who made my heart belongs in the center of it.