Among the definitions for “idol” is “representation or symbol of an object of worship, or broadly, a false god.” However, there is one more subtle and insidious with the potential for fostering divisiveness, and destructive conflict–this second definition is “an object of extreme devotion.”
The Bible contains over 100 exhortations about the seriousness of misplacing one’s allegiance in idols rather than God. Lest we forget, the idol need not be an object of religious reverence; that idol can just as easily be something that so objectifies our need to possess or retain it that we are unwilling to release it, even at the expense of jeopardizing our relationship with God, as well as the people around us.
Often the object we are so reluctant to part with represents a tangible link to someone we knew, respected, and loved. In some way, allowing that object to be sold or given away represents a final parting with the person that it represents—a parting in which we can no longer see or touch the object, and thereby be reminded of the person it represents.
Yet, if we replace a person, even the memory of a person, with an object are we not erecting an idol? Are we not elevating that “thing” to a relational position over that with God and the people around us? After all, the “thing” is not the person; it merely represents the relationships and activities we had with the person it represents. Are we so needy that we rely on things to see and touch to remind us of the good times we had with our loved one, or to remind us of someone’s (or perhaps our own) past achievements?
It is almost as if that if we allow that object to be removed from our presence that, in some sense, we wipe out the entire existence of the person it represents—in a sense we respect, admire, and even express a modicum of devotion to this esteemed object, wherein releasing it would destroy the person it represents. By the way, “respect, admire, and devotion for an object of esteem” is among the definitions of worship. Are we willing to worship an object (idol) that is not God?