Anyone familiar with the Bible will be familiar with idolatry. It is forbidden in the Ten Commandments and routinely condemned in both Old and New Testaments. It is the worship of false gods in the place of the One True God. It is the enemy of true religion.
When we examine our own lives for idolatry, we don’t look for mini-figures made of wood and stone on our mantles or nightstands. We rightly acknowledge that idolatry still exists, but it’s much less tangible. Instead of expecting the statue of some “god” to meet our needs, we place our hope in money or power or knowledge. And we routinely find that these are false sources of hope and security. They make for bad gods. Even still, these false gods are alluring, and so we frequently find ourselves sucked back in.
The problem with idolatry is obvious. Only God is worthy and deserving of our worship. When we give what God deserves (worship) to other things, we offend God. That’s a problem. Idolatry is also a disaster waiting to happen. Like a house built on sand, one good storm will sweep it all away, leaving nothing but rubble in its wake. When we build our lives on idols—false, powerless gods—our lives collapse the moment we need those gods to show up.
But there’s another problem with idolatry that’s easily overlooked. Idolatry changes you. It makes you into a different (i.e. worse) person. Worshiping money will make you a miser; worshiping power will make you a bully, worshiping knowledge will make you a know-it-all. God’s plan for humanity is for each one of us to reflect His image, but that can’t happen if we’re being molded into the image of a false god.
This last problem with idolatry is especially important in the face of today’s most inconspicuous idol. It might be necessary to tilt your head just a bit (so to speak) in order to see it, but devotion to this false god looks a lot like ancient idolatry. It rests in our homes on (or above) an altar. We sit before it and expect it to meet our needs. Our calendars are timed to its rhythms. Our friendships are sustained by its practices. Our conversations are fueled by its deeds. We can hardly wait until we can sit and behold it again.
When the coronavirus slammed the brakes on life as we knew it, many people quickly found themselves very, very bored. To relieve their boredom, people turned to TV. Recently, Netflix announced that they’ve added 15 million (15,000,000!) new subscribers in 2020. What better to do than watch something new or catch up on something old?
Like I said, you might need to tilt your head to see it. If boredom has become your greatest need under the current stay-at-home orders, then your television has likely become your deliverer—a real, tangible, sitting-in-your-house idol. Positioned prominently—if not centrally—in your home, it promises to save you from the problem of boredom.
And it does a good job of it. Entertainment is hard to pin down as a false god because we are surrounded by unbelievably sophisticated means of entertainment. It doesn’t look like there’s anything “false” about it. But entertainment can’t deliver us from other problems, evils much more serious than boredom, even if it can temporarily distract us from them.
Which leads us to another reason this particular form of idolatry might be hard to spot. Few of us expect entertainment to solve all of our problems. We only want it to cure our boredom—and maybe provide us with some fodder for conversations with friends and coworkers. And so in our minds, there is no conflict between our entertainment and the God we claim to worship.
The problem isn’t that entertainment is going to displace God as all-powerful in anyone’s minds. The problem is that our entertainment is conforming us into its own image, rather than into the image of God. Ordering our lives to avoid boredom will inevitably differ from building our lives to know God.
We must take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must keep God in our sights, even as we are entertained, to make sure we are being conformed into his image. We must look carefully how we walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because our world is hostile to God (Eph. 5:15–16). By doing so, we can guard ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t follow along with your favorite shows. But it does mean you must follow Christ more closely.