Exodus 20: 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
I read a recent sports article and it asked the question: “Who is your Idol?” The article went on to name NHL’s Sidney Crosby, NBA’s LeBron James, and MLBs Mike Trout. Or maybe for you it is the NFL’s Tom Brady, soccer’s Mia Hamm, swimming’s Michael Phelps, tennis’s Serena Williams or golf’s Tiger Woods. Each of those listed above have exemplified awesome talent and seemingly super-human resilience and mental fortitude, but does that deserve them “idol” status?
With singing shows like American Idol and frequent casual references in sports to the word “idol”, we seem to have normalized a word that traditionally had a very serious meaning. An idol is “an object of extreme devotion; a representation or symbol of an object of worship”[i]. Most people would laugh at the suggestion that they actually have an idol in their life. “Yeah, I love watching sports on TV and I spend a fair bit of time and money devoted to sports, but it’s just something I like; it’s not an idol!”. But is that true?
I am a self-proclaimed lover of sports. I was not born into a sports-loving family. My family was active (my dad was a mountain climber in Europe and my parents enjoyed hiking with our family), but I was an oddity from the beginning. All I did from morning until night was kick soccer balls, play street hockey, hit and catch baseballs, and run and run. While the running and running becomes more laborious each year, my mind is still 10 and I still love to play almost any sport. Force me to pick one TV channel and it is a no-brainer – it’s a sports channel. My parents did not model this out; no one taught me a passion for sports – I was born with it. So that passion, in itself, is God-given and therefore definitely not a sin, but when does a passion become an obsession? When does something or someone become an idol in our life?
In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller suggests that Idols are what you love more than God, what you seek instead of Christ to give your life meaning. Keller suggests five approaches to detecting your idols:
- What are your daydreams? When you don’t have anything in particular you have to think about, what do you think about? “Your religion is what you do in your solitude.”
- Where do your uncontrollable emotions show up? When do you get most upset? “Pull up your uncontrollable emotions by the roots and you’ll find your idols clinging to them.” Kathy Keller
- What do you spend your money on most effortlessly? Some spend it on clothes, houses, cars, vacations because their idol is human approval. Some store it away because their idol is security.
- What are our nightmares? “If that ever happened, I just couldn’t go on” or “If I couldn’t have that, life would no longer be worth living for me.”. That’s an idol structure.
- What unanswered prayer has embittered you toward God? If you make a certain prayer request the basis for whether you follow or obey God, you are telling God to give you your idol.
As a Christian, how do you deal with ridding your idols? Keller suggests that this is a heart matter. “Ultimately dealing with our idols is dealing with the affections of our heart”. If you gain or re-gain an understanding in your heart of Jesus’ love and grace for you, then he becomes the center of your affection and then he replaces your heart’s affection for your idols. Who or What is your idol?