If the first commandment has to do with making little gods out of others, in our relationships and, most of all, making gods out of ourselves—all people—the second has to do with things.
Moses brought this down from the mountain: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.”
About now, I figure someone is going to say, “Wait a minute. The command against other Gods and the one against idols had to do with the world the Israelites were living in back then. It was a polytheistic world full of other gods and idols…” True, and not.
The gods represented authorities and demanded a person’s devotion. We have plenty of people these days who both have authority over us and/or demand our devotion. And idols were representations of powers and principalities where a person could bargain, compromise themselves, make the right sort of sacrifice and get everything they wanted. Are we so different?
There are thousands of things in this world that qualify for idols, money being only one and perhaps the most obvious of those things. And we have wants (desires), objects to take our full attention and devotion: that new dress, the perfect car, the dream home, the latest bit of technological wonder. And all too often we are willing to compromise ourselves (commit sacrifices) to get these things. This, God understands and speaks against.
What is worse, is the idolatry–the worship we give to those intangible things that we so often struggle for: power, prestige, status. For some, it is like we want to make ourselves gods not only over ourselves but over others, especially in workplaces and most especially in bureaucracies. Some believe money can buy these intangibles. Some seek elective office, for all the wrong reasons as the expression goes. Some enter into professions, not for the profession but where such things are given, or they bring it into the church: that controlling, need to be in charge, to be counted as special attitude that poisons so many gatherings of God’s people.
What is the object of our desires? This is the idolatry question. How much are we willing to bargain, compromise ourselves and make sacrifices to achieve these things? “Hey! I worked hard all my life. I deserve the chance to enjoy myself.” But wasn’t your work dedicated to God? Did you work hard all those years for yourself or God? What if you died the very night you retired? Would that mean all your hard work was for nothing? I tell you, the sin is so deep in the very marrow of our bones we do not even recognize it.
Of course, everyone is guilty of desiring and striving after objects which invariably distract our focus and lead us away from God. There is not one person alive who can claim otherwise. Thanks be to Jesus that these objects will not be the death of us. But having said that, God’s standard does not change. He has said we are not to make idols of anything.
We need, at the very least, perspective on all of the things that swirl around us so that we are not consumed by them. We are to be consumed by God and God alone. Whenever I find myself wanting and striving to obtain something, even something important, I take a breath, ask forgiveness and kneel before the altar of God. The standard remains, though I fail seventy time seven times, I try again.