“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” God’s commandment to Israel could not have been clearer, but for Israel, keeping it was not so easy. Each time God’s people turned to “other gods” like Baal or Molech—despite the dire and repeated warnings by the prophets—the result was disaster.
Of course, worshiping false gods is not a Middle Eastern specialty. The history of the Church is filled with battles against pagan gods, such as Zeus, Athena, Odin, or any number of Celtic and Slavic deities. Even today, we’ll sometimes hear of a pagan revival, but it’s typically some fringe story of an Icelander worshiping Thor.
Still, it would be a grave mistake to think idol worship is a thing only of the past or of primitive cultures. Throughout Western culture, scientifically advanced as it is, we are guilty of the sin of idolatry—including many Christians. The gods we worship don’t have personal names, but they do have their “high places.” They may not have statues or altars like Asherah poles, but they do have prophets and priestesses.
Here are four big idols of our age (and because I used to be Baptist, they all begin with the letter S): Sex, State, Science, and Stuff.
Each of these things are good, in and of themselves. Without sex, there would be no us. Without state, chaos. Without science, ignorance. Without stuff, poverty. But when even good things come to occupy a place in our heart where only God belongs, when we put our trust in them and see ourselves in their image, they become our gods, and we become idolaters.
This is the topic of our next online short course: “The Gods of Our Age.” I’ll kick off the course talking about the god of Stuff, followed by Dr. Hunter Baker on the god of State. In so many ways, we look to government to supply our deepest needs, from safety to meaning and fulfillment. Then the one and only Dr. J. P . Moreland, who has just written an excellent book on Scientism, the idea that science is the source of all knowledge, will join the course to talk about that idol. Finally, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse will talk about how sex has become an ends of personal fulfillment, rather than a means of something higher, and in that sense has become a god of our age, too.
There are many reasons why we must understand our idols. One reason is that they are so subtle. No one would ever stand up and announce, “I trust in stuff to fill the God-shaped hole in my heart,” of course. And yet the pull of materialism is so strong. How many Americans find themselves in debt, or addicted to the promise of the next adventure, or just being less generous than they should be out of worry or concern?
Another reason we should understand our idols is because our idols diminish our understanding of God. T. S. Elliot said that the essence of idolatry is entertaining thoughts about Him that are not worthy of Him. Our idols make us think less about God, and at the same time, make us think about God less. Either of those paths leads to disaster.
And finally, how we think about God affects how we think about people. Psalm 135 says that those who worship and trust in idols become “like them.” The false gods of our age—including sex, stuff, state, and science—are the primary drivers behind the dehumanization we see across our culture. There’s so much more we can say about that.
Our short course, “The Gods of Our Age: Sex, State, Science, and Stuff” is completely online and begins Tuesday June 4. The course is held on four consecutive Tuesday nights, and includes a presentation by our guest instructor and a Q&A session after that. Each session is recorded and made available to you, in case you have to miss a session or wish to review it. Go to BreakPoint.org to register while space is available.
The warning of the prophets is as true as ever: The path of idols is the path of destruction. But the promise offered throughout Scripture remains just as true: to know God is to know ourselves and to know life. What other reason would we need to rid ourselves of idols and restore the worship of God in our lives, in our families, and in our culture?