For those of you who wear eye-glasses, what happens when you eat a hot, steaming bowl of ramen? Once your head emerges from the bowl of delicious goodness, you discover that you cannot see! The steam has so fogged up your glasses that you are virtually blind! Such is the effect of idolatry. Idolatry is like wearing a broken pair of glasses that compromise and blur our perception of this world.
In Ezekiel 14:3, God gives us a glimpse of idolatry’s power when he says, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” The idols of Israel are like blocks before their faces. They obscure, distort, and obstruct their vision, causing them to stumble around. That is a scary thought. This is what we call the “principle of inescapable influence.”
For example, idolatry affects the way you view and relate to other people. If beauty is your idol, if it is foundational to your identity, significance, and well-being, then it will inevitably affect how you relate to someone who is more beautiful than you. You may find yourself secretly envying her, stewing in your jealousy, as you simultaneously exaggerate her personality flaws as a way to make yourself feel better.
If your education is an idol, a source of self-righteousness, then you may feel superior to the colleague who “only” graduated from high school. Your sense of superiority shows itself by the way you ignore him or dismiss him inside the office and outside. Will you go out of your way to be-friend this colleague? Probably not.
On the other hand, you will go out of your way to befriend an accomplished CEO or mega-church pastor if career success is your idol. You’ll do your best to sit next to them when at a dinner party. You will listen more carefully to what they have to say. Such a success story is more worthy of your attention than others. There is no denying that our idols influence and shape our perception of others. How you judge, view, and relate to others often says more about you than it does about them.
Another way to identify your idols is by turning the tables and evaluating how others feel when they are around you. If people in your life complain that they often feel used by you, then chances are the idol in your life is power. You feel most alive and significant when you are winning and succeeding. Therefore, other people are unconsciously reduced to mere pawns to help you in your pursuit.
If people in your life complain that they feel smothered by your constant need for attention, then chances are your idol is approval. Your significance is tied to how others esteem you so you are constantly bombarding them with ways to please them and win their affections.
If your idol is comfort, then the people in your life will likely feel neglected by you. Life is good when you are able to relax and enjoy your creaturely comforts. When the needs of others disturb that comfort, then more often than not, they will be ignored. Your comfort is more important than their discomfort.
Lastly, if others often feel condemned by you, then chances are your idol is control. Any time someone acts contrary to your expectations, you tend to punish them by disparaging them verbally or withdrawing from them emotionally. You must keep them in check when they fall out of line since your significance is tied to your ability to control.
I’ve intentionally given you many examples mainly because it is difficult to see how our idols manifest themselves. We know idols exist inside our hearts. We just don’t know how they look on the outside. Sometimes we need someone to spell it out for us so that we can connect the dots.