We find the sin of Idolatry going back to the Garden in Genesis 1-3 even though such sin is not explicitly stated.
In point of fact when our first parents quit being committed to God and reflecting His image at that very moment they were replacing reverence for God with reverence for an Idol and were being conformed to the image of the Idol they had turned to and were reflecting its image.
To see the idolatry of our first parents we have to understand that the purpose of Adam & Eve’s placement in the garden.
Gen. 1:28 teaches that our first parents were to subdue the entire earth
“God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In having dominion they were to reflect God’s image on the earth as God’s vice regents — His Stewards. In taking dominion Adam & Eve were reflecting God’s character and filling the earth with that Character.
Genesis 2:15 continues that theme,
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
They were to serve it and guard it.
The idea of cultivating and protecting the garden was how Adam was to display the functional calling of God’s Image
Just as God subdued the Chaos they were to subdue the Garden.
Just as God ruled over all of Creation as seen in His Creative work they were to have dominion
Just as God filled the earth with teeming things they were to be fruitful and multiply themselves
This idea that Adam was set in the sanctuary Temple garden as a royal Image of God is an ancient concept that we find in other ancients contexts. Parallels from other Eastern cultures find the images of gods adorning their temples and include the idea that the King of the people is an ancient image of God.
The clearest example of this is found in the Egyptian King Rameses II (1290-1224 BC) when referring to his God inscribed, thou hast fashioned me in they likeness and thy form, which thou hast assigned to me and has created.”
“I am thy Son who thou hast placed upon thy throne. Thou hast assigned to me thy Kingdom.”
J. Richard Middleton can write on this,
“The description of ancient Near Eastern Kings as the image of a god, when understood as an integral component of Egyptian and / or Mesopotamian royal ideology, provides the most plausible set of parallels for interpreting the imago Dei in Genesis 1. If such texts … influenced the biblical imago Dei, this suggests that humanity is dignified with a status and role vis-a-vis the non human creation that is analogous to the status and role of kings in the ancient Near East vis-a-vis their subjects… As Imago Dei, then humanity in Genesis 1 is called to be representative and intermediary of God’s power and blessing on earth.”
So Adam and Eve were God’s Image in His Temple Sanctuary Garden and functionally speaking by having Dominion (guarding and serving Gen. 2:15) they were to mirror God’s glorious Image. Further in being fruitful and in multiplying they were filling the earth not merely with progeny but with image bearing progeny who would be reflectors of God’s glory.
These Image bearers however betrayed the end for which they were created by choosing to serve an Idol.
Adam failed in his divine image of dominion by not guarding the garden and allowing the Serpent into the Temple Sanctuary of God, and eventually that lack of Image reflecting guardianship eventually gave way to being ruled by the Serpent. Instead of casting the serpent out He, himself served the Serpent and was cast out.
In all of this we see the move to Idolatry. Remember that Idol worship is revering and prioritizing anything but and above God. We see this in
Adam’s allegiance shifting from God to the Serpent
Adam reflecting the Serpent’s character and not God’s
Whereas Adam had been God’s truth spokesman as seen in naming the Creating, Adam now speaks deceitfully like Satan.
Whereas Adam had trusted God’s legislative word, Adam now trusts his own word as seen in trusting the Serpent
So Adam’s shift from trusting God to trusting himself to trust the Serpent meant that Adam no longer reflected God’s image but was beginning to mirror the image of his Idol.
Perhaps the highest form of idolatry seen in the fall is the determination of Adam to make his own Word to be legislative of reality as opposed to submitting to God’s Law Word. For this sin of reflecting and mirroring the Serpent, who once upon a time determined himself to do what Adam and Eve have now done (de-God God and en-God himself by ascending to the most High,) God casts them out of the Temple sanctuary garden just as God has cast Satan out of heaven long ago.
So in this we see that the root of all idolatry is in deifying our own capacities and thereby attempt to make God of ourselves and our choices and all their implications. At the root all idolatry is human rejection of the Godness of God and the finality of God’s legislating moral authority. Idolatry always works to blur the distinction between the Creator and the creature. Man, in erecting Idols, aims at injuring God and always mortally wounds himself.
The fall displays sin to be the rearranging of existence around the self conditioned self, with the result that self conditioned self is the center of all it does. Gen. 3 teaches us that all sin thus begins with idolatry and is always in service having other gods before God.
What are your besetting sins? Whatever those besetting sins are they are besetting sins because at root some Idol of self is seeking to displace the God of the Bible in your heart.
And Idolatry is always, in the end about the Transcendent Self. Even in animistic cultures where Idols are more concrete the purpose of serving the Totem or the Idol is to ensure the worshipers of their own safety, advancement and aggrandizement. In animistic cultures the Idols are served because of how the Idols can serve the worshipers and magic is introduced as manipulative alchemy to bend the gods to ones will.
In Biblical Christianity this is flipped around. The God of the Bible serves Himself by serving His people w/ the purpose that we might serve Him. God does not exist at our disposal, we exist at God’s disposal. We are not using God to advance our autonomously arrived at agendas, God is using us to advance His agenda of ruling all the Earth.
Another characteristic of Idolatry we see in the fall is the building up and protecting of the Self. The building up of the self is obvious enough as it is seen in the refusal of the self to submit to God’s ordained order. However, the centrality of the self in Idolatry is especially seen in God’s investigation of the matter. Adam protects the Idol self by blaming Eve, and Eve protects the Idol self by blaming the Serpent. Wherever you see Idolatry you see justifications and rationalizations for behavior that a repentant self would own up to.
So, Idolatry is concerned with creating a bubble of the Self (making the self look larger and more intimidating than it really is) and it is concerned with protecting at all costs the image of the self.
Illustration — Tolkien’s Gollum (Smeagol)
Ivan Provan has said in his book, “Worshiping God in Nietzsche’s World,”
“the fundamental idolatry described by the Bible lies also at the heart of the varied modern idolatries: the idolatry of the self. The self is at the center of existence as a god: ultimate significance is found in god-like individual autonomy, self-set goals and boundaries.”
All of this explains our current infatuation with the self. We worry about our children’s self-esteem and we worry about our self-image. We talk about being self-aware and encourage ourselves to have self-confidence to overcome self-doubt. And some of these might be fine if they were set against the back drop of worshiping God as God but more often than not they are set against the back drop of the self-conditioned self and are thus seen as self worship.
So what are our idols?
One might suggest that one of our chief Idols is what I might call “Nowism.”
Nowism is the idea that however things are now is how they are going to always be and as such we would do well to align our thinking w/ the “now.” Some have called “Nowism,” “Historical determinism.” It is an Idol because it is believed that it controls all.
With this kind of thinking theology is re-tooled so that whatever is fashionable now is used to reinterpret the Christian faith, or Christian ethics. And so because of “nowism,” we get the attempt to add the Belhar Confession to our confessions because the multiculturalism that it reflects is seen as a trend that just can’t end.
But the Idol of “Nowism” means also we reinterpret what is modest in light of the prevailing tendency. Nowism means that we reinterpret worship through the lens of Top 40 music and self-help psychology because that is what attracts people.
However, the Idol of “Nowism,” is a unsure thing as history is not dictated by trends that can not be overcome but it is dictated by God who is the judge over history. Imagine how inevitable “Nowism” must have been in Sodom 5 minutes before God’s judgment.
Another oldie but goodie Idol is “401K’ism.” (You can not serve both God and mammon)
Americans tend to have us much confidence in the future as they have money in the bank. We can tend to measure our status and importance by what we have that others do not have.
But 401K’ism doesn’t afflict only the wealthy. The poor can be and often are afflicted by this as seen in their envy and hatred of the wealthy simply because they are wealthy. This envy — this delighting in the failure of others even if we aren’t helped by their failure — is seen and ginned up in every political cycle as voters are reminded how unfair the economic order is.
Does your Mammon own you or do you own your mammon?
Another Idol is the Idol of power
This is seen in the domineering husband and father who rules the home not with a servants heart but with a tyrant’s intent. It is seen in the shrew and wench of a wife who will have her way no matter what and so seeks to undercut the authority of her husband at each turn. It is seen in the Boss who views his employees as his playthings or in the employee who is always conniving to displace the rightful authority of the Employer.
It is seen in the modern messianic state that claims ownership of all things, and claims the right to formulate laws without any reference to transcendent moral absolutes. Because it is a Idol of power it seeks to reduce other authorities to impotence such as local magistrates, family, and Church.
Another Idol is the Church and what passes for Christianity
It is an Idol because of its compromise with the idols of the age and its refusal to serve no God but God. When we so prioritize the Church simply because it is called “the Church,” that we turn a blind eye ourselves to the idols of our age we have committed Churcholatry.
Of course anything can become an Idol. We can love our family so much that it displaces God and so we are guilty of familolatry. Many men have been guilty of workoltry, and yet work is a positive good. In our culture there seems to be a tendency towards Celbrity-olatry, but I think we could file that also under Nowism since the celebrity reflects the “now.”
It may be the most difficult thing in life to constantly keep our Idols in check. We are self-deceivers and it is difficult for us to see the truth about ourselves. But if we are to press on in Christ likeness we have to be careful of idols we might create.
G. K. Beale
“God has made humans to reflect Him, but if they do not commit themselves to Him, they will not reflect Him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: We either reflect the Creator or something in creation…. All humans have been created to be reflecting beings, and they will reflect whatever they are ultimately committed to, whether the true God or some other object in the created order…. We resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration.”