by Mick Hauser

It is difficult to know where to start when writing about the subject of idolatry. I’d like to approach it with some humour, but it’s such a hard-hitting topic, how can you do that?

Australian Lutheran pastor Rev Dr Michael Lockwood, who has also written for this edition, has penned a book on Luther’s understanding of idolatry entitled The Unholy Trinity. Its central thesis is that the self and its desire to be covered in glory rather than with the blood of Christ lies behind all idolatry.

And we continue to make innumerable idols, chiefly with our imaginations.

‘Idolatry is an attempt of the imagination to take the divine and make it visible, to make it understandable, to make it manageable’, say the authors and Lutheran theologians Gene Veith Jr and Pastor Matthew P Ristuccia, in their book Imagination Redeemed.

Martin Luther, his fellow Protestant reformer John Calvin and 20th-century Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer all agreed somewhat that the imagination was an idol factory.

Our imaginations seem to be unrelenting in creating idols. Even within the church, faithful Christians have a habit of unwittingly chiselling out idols, abstract or otherwise.

We often take aspects of a divine promise or gift and idolise them. For instance, freedom, love and wisdom or reason.

These are aspects or qualities of divinity, but torn away from the person of Christ, created and carved into abstract notions or principles, they become idols.

The most common idol according to Luther is mammon – money, property, riches or any material wealth. They are created gifts that we mistake for God. In our materialistic world and culture, we don’t have to look far to find the influence of mammon on our lives.

Idols, too, especially most recently, often dress themselves with the garment and scales of ‘justice’. For instance, freedom for everyone is good, especially for me! Ethical philosophical systems easily become idols. ‘Virtue signalling’ is a product of idolatry.

A little more hidden is the idolatry we find surrounding the chief articles of the church, our confessions. I don’t mean that the Book of Concord itself is an idol – although this would be and is concerning – but I mean the idolatry that seeks to copy closely the articles of faith, but with distortions that can be manipulated.

We idolise the office of public ministry, the pulpit and the authority it holds and the voice that it gives.

We idolise the keys to the kingdom too, to bind and to loose sin as we become the judges of the world, offering up an opinion on everything and pasting them all over the cyberworld. We are very ready to declare someone as unspeakable and another to be worthy of mention.

A little closer to our hearts though, the idol of self-love has always told us that we can be whatever we want to be. In our pandering to one another, we thought that loving our neighbour meant agreeing with them and reiterating the lie.

Now we reap what we sow. People modify their bodies, not only in their gender, but some go so far as to want to look like a different species altogether.

Science fiction often imagines cybernetics or beings that are part-human and part-machine, leaving humanity facing a struggle to maintain control. In many cases, the progress and ultimate survival of humanity are held up as the leading ethical principles of what is just and right.

Living for eternity seems to be the goal for many, as we idolise life itself. We have literally locked up those who threaten life with sickness.

We cast aspersions and mock those who stand against worldly tides. Idolatry has infiltrated all levels of society and it is a religion in itself.

Lord have mercy on us! We have plenty to turn away from. Help us, we pray!

Pastor Mick Hauser serves as a lecturer at Martin Luther Seminary at Lae in Papua New Guinea.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login and read this article.
Not a subscriber? Click here to receive stories & upcoming issues in full