Idol Worship: Man Made or Demonic?

Blog Post | What is an idol and what is idolatry? Let's look at what the Bible says, along with some thoughts from Timothy Keller and Wayne Grudem.

Looking at Idolatry?

I was reading Warren Wiersbe’s BE Series commentary on Deuteronomy recently when I came across the following statement:

“Because all other “gods” are only the creations of sinful imaginations and aren’t gods at all (Rom. 1:18ff.). To worship other gods is to worship nothing and become nothing (Ps. 115:8).”
 -Warren W. Wiersbe (Be Equipped (Deuteronomy): Acquiring the Tools for Spiritual Success)

Now, before jumping into this topic, let me say that I have enjoyed reading Wiersbe’s work and in no way mean for anything said here to criticize him or his writing.

What stood out to me though was the linking of other gods to simply man made objects. Of course, the physical idol is made by human hands. But what is an idol? Let’s turn to Timothy Keller for a quick introduction:

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.”
 — Timothy Keller (Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters)

This is a great start, though it seems a bit abstract. What are these counterfeit gods that control people’s lives? Maybe for some it’s shopping, playing games, alcohol, drugs, sports, etc. But where do these things turn to idolatry? Maybe a definition would be helpful:

“The worship of images made to represent Yahweh or any other deity.”
 — The Lexham Bible Dictionary

Of course, for a nonbeliever in God whose nature is sinful and against God, idolatry is quite natural, even though they have no idea that their heart desires anything but God. But, for Christians, idolatry, especially modern day idolatry, is extremely subtle and hard to detect. It gets even more complicated when we realize, as Timothy Keller so wisely points out, that there are surface idols and deep idols.

“There are “deep idols” within the heart beneath the more concrete and visible “surface idols” that we serve. Sin in our hearts affects our basic motivational drives so they become idolatrous, “deep idols.”
 Each deep idol — power, approval, comfort, or control — generates a different set of fears and a different set of hopes.”
 — Timothy Keller (Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters)

Beyond Earthly Idols

Coming back to Wiersbe’s point, let’s examine what is behind idols and idolatry. Is it simply man made? The image may be, whether it’s ancient statues or modern day pop stars and must-have gadgets. But, is there something spiritual at work behind the image? What does the Bible say?

16 They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods;
 With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
 17 They sacrificed to demons, not to God,
 To gods they did not know,
 To new gods, new arrivals
 That your fathers did not fear.
 — Deuteronomy 32:16–17
19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
 — 1 Corinthians 10:19–21
“They mingled with the nations
 and learned to do as they did.
 They served their idols,
 which became a snare to them.
 They sacrificed their sons
 and their daughters to the demons.
 — Ps. 106:35–37

What are we to make of these verses?

“These references demonstrate that the worship offered to idols in all the nations surrounding Israel was really worship of Satan and his demons. This is why Paul can say of the false religions of the first-century Mediterranean world, “What pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:20). It is thus fair to conclude that all the nations around Israel that practiced idol worship were engaging in the worship of demons.”
 — Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology)

Is this still true today? I think so. While in western culture we don’t (normally) sacrifice animals or burn incense at a shrine, we do tend to sacrifice many things (health, relationships, time, money, etc.) to get the desires of our hearts. Our desires, however, were only meant to be fulfilled by the One True God. Instead of giving these things to fulfill our desires selfishly, we give them to God and He fulfills us in a way we could never experience when we give to counterfeit gods.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Obviously this is only breaking the surface of a vastly complicated and controversial topic. Maybe you have some insight or recommended reading on the topic? Use the comment area below to start a conversation!

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