God is love. We love that God is love, that he is the never-ending source of love, that he is the one who always acts in loving ways. Even those who reject the Christian faith still like to imagine and believe in a God who is love.
But God is not only love. The God who loves must also hate. The God who loves all that is good and pure and holy must hate all that is evil and defiled and perverse. And, not surprisingly, the Bible tells us of many things that ignite the wrath of God. Sometimes he tells us plainly as in Proverbs 6:16: “There are six things the LORD hates…” Sometimes he tells us of things that are an abomination to him or things that are detestable in his sight. As we compile them we arrive at a list of more than 40 things that God expressly hates. They range from abhorrent sexual practices to pagan forms of worship to acts of grave injustice.
Today I am kicking off a series that will examine the things God hates, for what God hates we must hate as well. I have distilled the list of 40 into 8 categories. We begin today with God’s hatred of idolatry.
God Hates Idolatry
God created human beings to be worshippers. The question is not “will we worship?” but “what will we worship?” We will all pursue something as the antidote to our emptiness, our insufficiency. We will all look for meaning, for fulfillment, for satisfaction. J.I. Packer says it like this: “It is impossible to worship nothing: we humans are worshipping creatures, and if we do not worship the God who made us, we shall inevitably worship someone or something else.” Of course “the truth is that our supreme fulfillment, as moral beings made in God’s image, is found and expressed in actively worshipping our holy Creator.” No wonder, then, that the first 3 of the 10 commandments deal with proper worship of God.
God tells us in no uncertain terms that he hates idolatry. He despises the worship of anything or anyone other than himself. In Deuteronomy 7:25 he tells his people what to do when they find foreign idols in the land they are entering: They are not only to destroy the idols but even to rid themselves of the defiled raw material. “The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God.” If God hates idols, then of course he hates idolatry, the worship of false gods. In Jeremiah 44:3 he explains that punishment has come upon his people “because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers.” They stubbornly ignored his prophets who repeatedly spoke this divine warning: “Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!”
Idolatry may take form in pagan worship practices and God particularly highlights his hatred for these, telling that he loathes divination, fortune telling, sorcery, charming, witchcraft, channeling, and necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). He also hates astrology, the worship of sun, moon, and stars (Deuteronomy 17:3-4), and other pagan worship practices such as human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10). The picture is clear. God tells his people who to worship and how to worship and he despises all deviations from his divine desires. God expects that we will hate idolatry with the same degree of righteous wrath.
Why God Hates Idolatry
Why does God hate idolatry? God hates idolatry because it is libelous, because it makes false statements about his nature and character. Idolatry proclaims things to be true of God that are actually false. It inevitably recreates God in the image of man, diminishing him, emptying him of his holiness, of his transcendence. Tozer says it well: “A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God.” This idol may be one we can see and touch, a piece of stone or a stump of wood. This idol may be something immaterial but pleasurable like sex or money. This idol may even be a perverse worship of God himself (see Exodus 32). Keller defines an idol in this way:
It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” … [An idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.
God hates idols because they make false statements about him. He also hates idols because they damage us, his image-bearers. When we pursue idols, we pursue things that can never satisfy and we stop pursuing the one and only thing that can bring full and permanent satisfaction. As Packer says, “When the object of homage is noble, the rendering of homage is ennobling; but when the objects of homage are not noble, the rendering of it is degrading.” The most degrading thing we can do as human beings is live our lives in pursuit of empty gods.
You have no doubt heard it said that the heart is an idol-making factory. Human history bears this out. And much closer to home, a few moments of honest introspection bear it out. We are all idolaters. Like God, we must despise idolatry for what it says about him and what it does to us.
God’s Judgment on Idolaters
If God hates idols and idolatry, we should not be surprised to learn that he deals with idolaters in the harshest manner. And, indeed, under the Old Testament law those who worshipped foreign gods were to be put to death (see Deuteronomy 13:10-11). In the New Testament we read something even more terrifying: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Idolaters forfeit God’s blessing and their place in his eternal kingdom. Their end is damnation.
Hope for Idolaters
God hates idols and idolatry, but there is still good news for idolaters. If 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 provides the warning, the next verse provides the hope: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Members of that church had once been idolaters. They had worshipped false gods, bowed the knee to idols. Yet Paul could say this was in their past. They had learned what all of us must learn: Christ died for idolaters. There is forgiveness for idolaters if only we will worship God the Father through Christ Jesus his Son.
We soon learn it is not enough to destroy an idol. We must replace it. We must replace our worship of false gods with worship of the true God. This is what those Corinthian Christians had done. They had encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ, they had put their faith in him, they had received his forgiveness, they had been indwelled by his Spirit. God offers that very same hope to you. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Flee from idolatry by fleeing to Christ Jesus.
Key Verses on Idolatry
If you would like to engage in some further study, here are key verses about God’s hatred of idolatry.
- God hates idols and even the materials used to make them (Deuteronomy 7:25)
- God hates the worship of the sun, moon, and stars (Deuteronomy 17:3-4)
- God hates human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10)
- God hates divination (Deuteronomy 18:10)
- God hates fortune telling (Deuteronomy 18:10)
- God hates sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10)
- God hates charming (Deuteronomy 18:11)
- God hates witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:11)
- God hates channeling (Deuteronomy 18:11)
- God hates necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:11)
- God hates idolatry (Jeremiah 44:2-4)
- God demands that idolaters be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:10-11)
- God commands us to flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14)
- God offers forgiveness to idolaters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)