The Hidden Power in Every Idol

We were made to mimic. God made us in such a way that we learn many of life’s skills by way of imitation. For good or for ill we also learn character, or lack of character, by imitation. Parents who routinely blow up in anger cannot be surprised when they raise a brood of children who respond to conflict with screaming, yelling, slapping. Teachers who constantly grumble and complain cannot be surprised when they find themselves in front of a classroom of grumblers and complainers. It’s just how it works, how we were made.

Become a Patron

Who do you want to be? What do you want to become? Even as you grow older, you remain an imitator—you mimic what you revere so that in some important ways you actually become what you revere. As Greg Beale says, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” This is a call for care, a call to pay close attention to who or what you honor, who or what you worship.

Recently, my morning devotions took me to Psalm 115 which mocks man-made idols. Why? Because “they have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat” (4-7). These idols are pathetic, impotent, utterly unworthy of veneration. But the psalmist isn’t done yet. He has one more claim to make: All idols have a hidden power.

The hidden power of idols is what they do to those who worship them. “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (8). These idols have no power, they have no life, they have no purpose. And those who worship them mimic them until they are just like them, people of no power, no life, no purpose. They become every bit as ridiculous as those stumps of wood, those blocks of stone. D.A. Carson explains, “What you worship you soon resemble; more, you identify with it, defend it, make common cause with it—and if it is an abomination to God, soon you are an abomination to him.” Worship an idol and you will resemble that idol. Worship what is useless and you will become useless.

In the Western world we are far too sophisticated for carved idols, of course, but we have idols of our own, respectable idols suited to twenty-first century sensibilities. If we worship the idol of the perfect body, the sweeping curves or the chiseled abs, we will become as vain and self-focused as the models in the magazines. If we worship the idol of money, we will become as greedy, selfish, and cut-throat as the worst wolf on Wall Street. If we worship athleticism, we will imitate superstar athletes in their arrogance, their moral depravity, their self-obsession. If we worship the idol of power we will mimic the flip-flopping, anything-goes, popularity-obsessed politician. On and on it goes. “We become like that to which we give our allegiance” (G.A. Cole). If we give our allegiance to something that is useless, empty, fleeting, then we become useless, empty, and fleeting. This is the psalmist’s surprising claim, his grave warning: It’s not just idols that are empty and powerless. It’s also the people who worship them.

But there is hope. If we worship what is significant, we become significant. If we worship what is satisfying we find ourselves satisfied. If we worship what is eternal, we find life eternal. As James Boice says, “If we worship things that people produce, we will become as impotent and empty as those things, but if we worship God, by the grace of God we will become like God, and we will both ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever’.”

Who do you want to be? What do you want to become? You will become what you worship, you will resemble what you revere. So, what captivates your attention? What dominates your thoughts? What moves your heart? Who or what do you worship? That is exactly who or what you are becoming.