What does idolatry look like?
As a sin, idolatry usually brings certain concepts or images (no pun intended) to mind. We typically think about statues and pictures as objects of our worship, and that is entirely accurate, though it doesn’t cover it completely. As I’ve said before in sermons, if you think little Buddhas or icons are your only worry with regards to this commandment, you’re reading it wrong.
As we meditate on the sin a little deeper, we move into areas such as attitudes, insecurities, possessions, and whacked out priorities, that gain sinful traction and preeminence in our lives. These can all move into the realm of idolatry, and they need to be uncovered and rooted out mercilessly.
God Doesn’t Look Like You
However, I’ve been thinking lately about another aspect of idolatry. The aspect of projection. When I use this word, I am specifically thinking about our tendency to project ourselves and our personal norms, preferences, likes, dislikes, and judgments, onto God, instead of the other way around.
For example, there could be a person whose personality grates on you. He (or she) is assertive while you are more mild-mannered, and their natural aggressiveness may be intimidating or off-putting to you. You might unconsciously portray their personality not as assertive but arrogant, and assure yourself that God is not pleased with them in comparison to your extraordinary self-control. Or, going in the other direction, say you are the assertive one. You see the other person not as mild-mannered, but instead a spineless milksop, in desperate need of some vigor and courage. You pray that God would sanctify them in this area of weakness.
This isn’t limited to personality traits. It can apply to standards of conduct as well. Not the commandments and standards that are clear from Scripture and universally understood—I’m talking instead about the ones that aren’t so clear, that are often formed by particular individuals, families, congregations, and cultures. They may have some semblance of a biblical basis, or they may not. They may be standards that are pretty central to your life (such as church affiliation, doctrinal non-essentials, schooling methods, and other lifestyle choices), or habits that are pretty tangential, but strongly entrenched, nonetheless. A somewhat silly example is the rural southern tendency to wave at virtually every car that you pass while driving down the highway. If you don’t, some people will think something is wrong, you’re angry at them, or that you are a jerk. This wouldn’t even occur to folks in most parts of the country.
The idolatry in this situation occurs when you automatically assume that God’s view and yours are perfectly synchronized. In our selfish pride, we erect a little god in our own image, and assume that the qualities of that false god are a perfect likeness of the one true God. Instead of shining the light of examination on yourself, you simply assume the rightness of your own positions, and project it onto God. Of course, the correct direction is exactly the opposite, We are to shine the light of God ’ s word into OUR lives, making sure that we are conformed to Him, not the other way around.
I am slowly coming to understand that the body of Christ is like a tapestry, made up of many colors and types of threads, woven together. God puts light threads and dark threads right next to each other, often weaving them all around each other, to make entirely new colors and textures. God is likewise putting people in your life that are very different from you and it might not be for the purpose of making them more like you. It could be that God might be making you more like them as well. And, in the end, making you both more like Him.