The prophet Daniel was probably a teenager when he was taken from his home in Jerusalem to Babylon, about 400 years before Jesus was born. Babylonian leaders saw that Daniel was a gifted young man, and sent him and some other young Jews to school to become leaders in the government. This meant going to school, being trained, and working with people who worshipped other gods. When they ate a meal, some of the food was sacrificed to a god like Marduk. When they started the day at school, they prayed to gods like Tiamat for blessing. As a part of their job, they were asked to bow to the king as a god! They lived with idols and idolatry all around them, while trusting only the one true God’s promises and responding in prayer, worship, and service. (Read Daniel chapters 1-6 for the full story.)
But there was also the idolatry inside: the pressure they felt to be comfortable. It would have been easier to eat the food sacrificed to Marduk. It would have tasted better too! They likely felt frustrated and anger that people wouldn’t just let them worship their God—and the temptation was to be disrespectful and lash out in anger. Plus, self-righteousness always lurks inside: the feeling that it was up to them to save themselves instead of trusting God and following God’s direction. Comfort, anger, and self-righteousness were idols hidden in their hearts.
Our idols are even more seductive because they don’t look like idols. We aren’t asked to sacrifice to Marduk before every meal or pray to Tiamat for guidance. Money, possessions, social media, political parties, ideologies, alcohol, drugs, sexual and all kinds of pleasurable activities can all be idols that we “bend the knee” with our time and energy, trusting them to save and guide us more than God. They are seductive because they do offer some power, security, and pleasure. They may be good and helpful until they become idols that we can’t live without.
When something becomes an idol, it is ultimately destructive to self and others because they cannot save or guide us out of the mess humanity is in. Once we start to turn to an idol, it is never enough. Idols say, “if there’s only a little bit more money” or “you can’t live without the drugs” or “if our party was more pure,” but they always demand more a little at a time until they consume our attention, our time, our energy, and our relationships.
Jesus didn’t remove the idols; they are still inside and out. He exposed them as frauds, he died because humans are willing to kill for them, and he was raised to show us that the One True God is the only one worthy of our highest love and trust. He gives us the power like Daniel to resist them even while we live with them.
I suggest that one of the crucial jobs of the Church is to expose the idols inside us and outside us and to point to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Weekly worship, Bible study, prayer, and Christian conversation are all ways that God helps strengthen us against the pressure to submit to the idolatry inside and out. Idols always look so powerful and comforting up close; together in the Holy Spirit we see them as a sham, like the statue of the King of Babylon that Daniel and his friends were commanded to worship. God gave them strength and protection to resist. How much more in Christ are we strengthened to resist the idols we face!
Facing our idols together with Christ,