When we talk about idols, particularly when we talk about idols of the heart, it's more than just talking about the things that we believe have power in the world. We can worship an image or the work of our own hands without really loving it, and it would be an idol, but it wouldn't have our heart. We do this all the time with things like success and acknowledgement, climbing the corporate or social ladder, as it were. These are the games that we play because we feel like we have to if we want to get ahead, but we have no particular affection for them.
These idols are certainly a threat to our true worship, and they are easily broken when we are able to rest in God's promises about who we are, where we're going, what we're doing, and how deeply He loves us. And that's precisely because these idols don't have our hearts.
But what about the ones that do?
When we talk about idols of this type, we can really break them down into two categories: the things that have our hearts and the things of our hearts. We'll talk about the first category today (and spoiler alert: the second, tomorrow).
The things that have our hearts are fairly straightforward: these are the idols in the world that we do have affection for, the things that we love. Specifically, they are the things that we love more than God. For some, they look like the idols that many of us could take or leave, but for others, they are a dangerous trap. They are often things that are not particularly evil or threatening in and of themselves, but only when they get into our hearts and start setting down anchors that keep us from ever drifting God-ward again.
Things like...television. Money. Sex. Power. Appearances. Food. Achievement. The list goes on and on, and it could include nearly anything. Most of these things that get our hearts are external things. That is, they come from outside of us. They are things that we go outside of ourselves to engage in, and they are often things that we purposely get outside of ourselves to engage in. Many of them have us disconnecting from something on purpose, pushing aside some meaningful part of ourselves, some vulnerable part of ourselves that is just too fragile, we think, for a world like this one.
The thing about these idols is that every one of them replaces something essential that God has already provided for us. Television gives us a story to invest in, neglecting the story of God that He has invested in us. Food seems to satisfy something that isn't satisfied by the world, or the Lord, or it offers us a provision that we aren't sure is coming from anywhere else, when God has provided for us from the very beginning. Achievement tells us we're worth something, though God has told us that we are worth everything. Sex tells us we can be intimately connected and feel pleasure, when God has invited us into covenant with Him and promised us good. Do you see what's happening here? The idols that we set up in our lives, the ones that we let get hold of our hearts, are things that answer the questions that God has already answered, if only we were listening to Him. They're the things that take the place of what God is supposed to be doing in our hearts, if only we'd let Him.
These types of idols are particularly fragile, just as the other set that we talked about earlier (those we don't become attached to). A little dose of truth usually shatters these to bits. When you discover God's incredible story that you're already a part of, television can't hold a candle to that. When you know what you're worth in God's eyes, one more certificate on the wall does nothing for you. When you are deeply satisfied in the Lord, you no longer need that piece of cake or that giant cheeseburger (although it's okay to want and to enjoy both - God has, after all, made these for your pleasure). When you're in a fulfilling intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, you no longer need sex to feel connected to things. And on and on and on it goes, as the idols in our lives come up against the truth of God and are revealed as very poor substitutes. It's not hard to choose the better thing when you know for certain what that better thing is.
What's harder is the third type of idols, the things of our hearts. The things that are so deep into them that they seem somehow like a fundamental part of who we are. These things are not external, but internal, and that makes them harder to topple. We'll talk about some of these tomorrow.