Idols Cannot Satisfy
If you have ever travelled through Asia or the Pacific Islands you would, doubtless, have come across obvious examples of idolatry in the form of Hindu or Buddhist statues, or animist amulets. But you don’t need to leave our shores to encounter idolatry. An idol can be anything you can imagine. Imagination can create an ‘image’ that can be as much an idol as any carved object. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1: 21-23).
He could have gone on to write: “shopping centres, and share markets, and prestige cars, and a perfect marriage, and academic degrees, and the admiration of our peers, and, and, and, and… anything you can imagine”. None of these things may be wrong in themselves, but anything — even a thought — can become an idol, and idols are deeply deceptive and enticing. They promise freedom but deliver slavery; they promise life but deliver death. We stumble from one idol to the next hoping to finally find the elixir for the soul, but it never works. The thirst just gets stronger and the darkness grows deeper.
Eventually, the painful reality of the loss of glory drives us to invent all kinds of ‘fig leaves’ to cosmetically cover up what we are or make up for what we aren’t. Remember how Adam immediately tried to justify himself and even blamed God for his predicament saying, “The woman you put here” made me do it (Genesis 3: 12). Every culture in the world has come up with some kind of ‘fig-leaf’ religion or self-justifying philosophy to cover-up their loss of glory. The prophet Jeremiah had something similar to say about the nation of Israel: “Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror, declares the LORD. My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2: 11-13).
Jeremiah here explains how Israel had fallen into the same error of Adam and Eve by attempting to live independently of the true God. In doing so, they cast aside their vital connection to God himself: the ‘spring of living water.’ In a similar way we will settle for glory substitutes in life and ‘dig our own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ The Bible calls this idolatry; we sometimes refer to it as addiction. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t really satisfy.
The only true satisfaction come in being known by and knowing God. He is the living water that Isaiah wrote about. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” (Isaiah 55: 1-3).