What does idolatry and coronavirus have to do with each other? Coronavirus has changed how we have lived these past few weeks. Routines have been upset, schedules have been cleared, and make-shift “offices” have been set up in playrooms and storage rooms across the city. As I went along trying to find some sort of “normal” in the unknown, the idea of idolatry kept showing up in multiple settings. Even Pastor Kirk’s lenten message on the well-known fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 referred to idolatry as part of our sinful nature. Why, when the world seems in such turmoil and I think God should teach me about trust, and strength and hope, does the word idolatry keep jumping out? What do idols and coronavirus have to do with each other? I can’t help but smile at God’s timing as it all started to make sense…
What is Idolatry?
One source defines idolatry this way: “An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God. It may be an object, a person, an activity, a sport, a role you play, an institution or organization, an idea, a pleasure, a hero, your family, your work, even your work for the Lord – anything that can become a substitute for God. It does not have to be a full-sized replacement for God, it may be only a part of your life. Idolatry is not necessarily a denial of God or His existence. An idol may even be made out of something that is a good thing in its own right. As soon as loyalty to anything or anyone leads us to disobey God, we are in danger of making it an idol.”
We can easily recognize idolatry in the form of bowing down to statues or making something more important than God. But realistically, am I ever going to admit, “Yes, this or that is more important to me than God.” Probably not. Partly because they sneak in so quietly – those idols. Since March started, we’ve gained new information about Covid-19, perused articles with statistics delivering varying degrees of panic and discussed the issue with friends and family. We’ve rescheduled dental appointments, stocked up on boxed potatoes, and bathed in hand sanitizer. Have you run the gamut of emotions that I have? Depending on who you are talking with and where your eyes are fixed, have you felt peace jump to anxiety and back? Fear? An urge to stock up or hunker down? Felt isolated? Felt defeated? Rejoiced at God’s goodness and faithfulness? Seriously questioned your sanity?
I started analyzing what my actions revealed about my idols- my loyalty – my heart.
- At first, when activities started being cancelled, I thought, “Excellent! Some extra time and quiet evenings. Seems smart.” (Idol concern – my rest/my time)
- Then when schools let out my thoughts turned to “what? For how long?” (Idol concern – my routine)
- “What am I going to do so these kids aren’t asking for electronics all the time? And how am I supposed to have my teenagers keep “social distance” without arguing over absolutely everything?” (Idol concern – my control)
- “They can’t just sit around! They’d better do a project, learn a lesson, and work hard!” (Idol concern – my desire for my family to look a certain way)
- “With everybody home from school and the office, how am I going to get anything done?” (Idol concern – my ideal of productivity)
- My dad invited us to come stay on the farm. Should we go? (Idol concern – my health/my guilt at potentially exposing others)
- What will the economy do? Is my job stable? (Idol concern – my money/self-sufficiency)
- Do I have enough toilet paper? (Idol concern: my comfort)
How many times have those different idols gotten in the way of what God had planned for me? How many times have those things stolen my joy, distracted me from worship, puffed up my pride, or pointed others to something other than Christ? Self-interest, self-centeredness, self-will and self-exaltation can be idols when they lead to disobedience or cause others to stumble. Idolatry is a matter of the heart. What do your life and motivations reveal about who you really trust and treasure? From I Corinthians 10:31, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Dealing with Idolatry
In 1 Corinthians, Paul urged believers to exercise personal freedom and spiritual gifts to honor God rather than indulging themselves. It is this same lesson that believers today should remember. Every aspect of life has the potential to glorify God or succumb to idolatry. As we navigate living in a “pandemic,” God can show us our most sneaky and hidden idols – those things that rob God of honor and glory that are rightfully His. It can also be a time of complete trust, opening up unexpected opportunities to place trust in our Heavenly Father. Will you ask God to reveal what rules your heart, what dishonors Him and hurts others? Ask Him where in your service to Him is there a tendency toward idolatry. Let God show you those areas and then know that you are able to combat them through complete dependence on Him. As in I Corinthians 10:14, will you ask God to help you “flee from idols” by increasing your love for Him?
Giving God the Throne
In these unknown times when everything seems out of your control, will you stick close to God and rely on Him completely? Will you give Him each week, each day, each hour so that He can show you His power. So that you can see why He alone is God? So that you won’t let any other thing, thought, or feeling invade God’s rightful place in your life?
I Corinthians 8:6 (NLT) “But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.”