The Best Things Make the Best Idols

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Have you ever wondered why the best things make the best idols? Maybe you have, or maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about and are about to click the “X” at the top of the screen.  First, to clarify, by “best idols,” I don’t mean “morally better,” but rather “toughest”, “most hidden,” “most subversive,” “most cunning,” or “worst.”  “Idols” too often evokes thoughts of golden calves and crowds of Indian people throwing colored powder all over themselves during religious festivals.  Across the world’s cultures there are certainly some more flamboyant manifestations of idolatry and false religion, but these are just small pockets; they aren’t your normal, run-of-the-mill idol.

I attend a seminary.  A seminary is an educational institution that provides practical theological training for those who want to be pastors, scholars, laypeople, or just want to learn more to make for good dinner conversation.  Seminary is a place where people go to be educated in the deep things of the Bible, learning to apply the gospel to all of life, and minister wherever God’s will takes them.  A lot of people who don’t know what seminary is ask me if I’m going to “become a priest.”  Many think I shave the top of my head and do chants all day Monty Python style. Basically, seminary looks pristine, clean, and holy.  It looks great on a resume.  I gauge this by how many times I get asked to say the prayer at meals that I am invited to.  Seminary is such a good thing, that it can easily take God’s place in our hearts.  

“What?? There’s no way SEMINARY could be an idol!”  But this is precisely the point of an idol:  The fervor in which you say, ‘There’s no way that could be an idol,’ whatever it may be, if it’s other than God, corresponds directly to the extent of that object’s subversive power over your life.

Here are some helpful words by Australian theologian Charles Sherlock:

Indeed, the worst idols are precisely the best things set in the place of God, and it is their God-given goodness which makes them attractive. The Doctrine of Humanity, 138.

If you are not a seminarian, (or are, and don’t struggle in the ways I struggle), you may want to substitute some of the best things in your life with what I have said about seminary.  “There’s NO WAY _______ could replace God in my life.  It’s TOO good!”  Wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, singleness, food, dieting, exercise, music, art, creativity, sports, education, books, learning, your favorite theological topic, nature, technology.  God made a good creation, so we can’t reach the end of the list of potential idols.  In fact, the more flamboyant manifestations of idolatry around the world probably serve more as distractions from ourselves.  Most of the time, things become idols, not because they are inherently evil, like “murder,” but because God made them good, like “family.” The most intimate manifestations of idolatry are not hidden in the jungles of Cambodia, but thriving right under our noses.


Written by keywoodblog

February 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

One Response

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  1. Great post; I too often make theological education and research interests into idols. Thanks for sharing.


    May 1, 2012 at 7:08 am

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