In his marvelous book The Peacemaker, Ken Sande defines an “idol” as “anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.” He also unpacks how an idol is formed:
….if…seemingly legitimate desires are not met, we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle. The more we want something, the more we think we need and deserve it. And the more we think we are entitled to something, the more convinced we are that we cannot be happy and secure without it.
When we see something as being essential to our fulfillment and well-being, it moves from being a desire to a demand. ‘I wish I could have this’ evolves into ‘I must have this!’ This is where trouble sets in. Even if the initial desire was not inherently wrong, it has grown so strong that it begins to control our thoughts and behavior. In biblical terms, it has become an idol.
While the word “idols” generally conjures up statutes of primitive gods, it’s an issue that affects people of all times and all cultures. As Tim Keller writes, the Bible’s “concept of idolatry is an extremely sophisticated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual categories.”
Think about it: if there’s something you’re depending on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure, what’s your reaction going to be when you don’t get it? How will you treat somebody who stands in the way of you having it? What will your response be when you have it but you don’t feel happy, fulfilled, or secure?
Welcome to your world. Welcome to the source of all your interpersonal conflicts (James 4:1-2). Welcome to the layer of your heart that’s feeding your more visible sins of addiction, anger, anxiety, jealousy, and despair (Mark 7:21-23). We want something to the extent that we feel we need it. So we rage against those who keep us from having it. We have it, but we are consumed with anxiety over the possibility of losing it.
It’s not wrong to seek something to be our happiness, security, and fulfillment. It’s called worship, and we’re created for it. The problem lies with the fact that we’re looking to something other than God to give us that kind of wholeness. Not only does God deserve that kind of worship because he is our creator but- as Augustine said- our hearts won’t rest until they find their rest in him. As long as what you’re worshiping can be taken away from you, you’ll never be at rest. You’ll never be content. On the other hand, if what you’re worshiping is the eternal, sovereign, everywhere-present God of the universe, you’ll rest just fine, even in the midst of great trials.
What are your idols? Have you ever thought about it? If not, I’d greatly encourage you to. It’s not a question of if you have idols, but rather what your idols are. Mark Driscoll provides a helpful list of questions to ask yourself toward that end:
Who or what do I make sacrifices for?
Who or what is most important to me?
If I could have any thing or experience I wanted, what would it be?
Who or what makes me most happy?
What is the one person or thing I could not live without?
What do I spend my money on?
Who or what do I devote my spare time to?