Religiously minded people are good at naming idols.
Sometimes their idol-naming skills are the fruit of an authentic encounter with the true and living God. At some point, in some way, they encountered the Holy and found themselves undone. Like Isaiah in the temple, they got a taste of the real thing and knew in that moment who they were before God. Having encountered God, they can spot a fake.
Sometimes idol naming is picked up second-hand. Hang around a church long enough and you’ll catch the verbiage that comes so easily to practiced Christians. It’s not too hard to become adept at “church,” the programs and vocabulary. Some people are good at naming idols because they know what they’re supposed to say: “money, houses, diplomas, compliments.” It’s not a hard list to master, and you can add items freely to impress others with your piety.
But either way – whether by genuine encounter with God or second-hand mimicry of the same – naming idols isn’t enough. Our idols must be dismantled and dethroned. Not simply recognized, but removed. And this is hard, no matter how you learned to name your idols.
Those who know the true God find they still nurse a secret affection for the lesser god. We saw that yesterday in Gideon’s idolatrous relapse. Those who act like they know God find the acting works pretty well. They coddle their idols and no one at church suspects a thing.
There’s has to be something beyond naming, something bold and almost violent. The idol must be brought down.
Back to Gideon. The heart of Gideon’s story is a great battle in which God used a mere 300 men to route the Midianites. Gideon commanded the special ops forces through whom God displayed his power and glory. Gideon: Called, chosen, used by God for a great purpose.
But before any of that could happen Gideon had to deal with some idols in the land and in his own family. Not just some anonymous inanimate thing. These idols belonged to his Father, a priest of the Midianite god Baal. Gideon was told to “tear down your Father’s altar” (Judges 6:25).
Gideon obeyed. He tore the thing down, dismantling the altar and cutting down the Asherah pole. But because he was afraid of his family he did it at night. He took down the idol, but under the cover of darkness. It didn’t matter. When everyone awoke they saw the rubble of their altar and the charred wood of the Asherah pole. “Who did this?” they asked. When they learned it was Gideon, they wanted to kill him.
In the weeks ahead you will be asked to do something more than name your idols. You will be asked – challenged, pushed even – to bring them down. That will call for more than a few private moments in front of your computer with these words. What is being asked of you is more akin to violence, an act of spiritual vandalism aimed at the false gods in your life.
If you’ll do this you’ll discover what Gideon came to know: You cannot deconstruct your idol and keep your life intact. Get serious about bringing down an idol, and something will change. For Gideon, it meant alienating his family, taking a stand against his Father. The price tag will vary for each life, each situation. But there is a price.
Let’s not be content to simply name our idols, sitting comfortably with a daily “devotional,” scanning a few lines before hitting ‘delete.’ Let’s not skulk around these matters under cover darkness, like the timid Gideon. Step into broad daylight and bring down whatever seeks a place in your life that belongs only to God.
What kind of price-tag will idol smashing carry in your life?
Make me bold, Lord God, to do more than name the idols that occupy my heart. Help me to uproot them, tearing up and bringing down that which has taken your place in my life. Come to those once occupied places and establish your rule in me by your Spirit. Amen.