When Ideals Become Idols

by Howard Glass

In the first two Commandments we learn the first things on God's mind when He tells us how we should treat Him:

You shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.

It sounds simple. But idolatry has many forms. Having outgrown the graven image, American culture worships ideals: freedom, tolerance, equal-opportunity, justice, fairness, peace, and so on.

Being intangibles, these idols are less visible and possibly more dangerous. An ideal becomes an idol when its success means more to us than the God who inspired it or the people who oppose it. Serving an ideal allows us to feel noble, energized, like we are surely on God's side.

That could be why many activists think themselves spiritually empowered—and perhaps why some go too far. They do not realize that serving a virtue or characteristic of God is not the same as serving God Himself.

Christians who become politically involved must be on guard against this. We are too easily swollen with ourselves and should remember that God has no need of us that way. To serve God with integrity requires a submission that unmasks one's pride and tempers any sense of ennoblement.

There are historical examples of people who did not lose sight of God's priorities; who did not let ideals become idols. I offer two: If you read the speeches Abraham Lincoln gave before and during the Civil War you sense love for his enemies. He had no hatred for those who held slaves, and he spoke as if he yearned for the day when the truth would prevail and the two sides would be reconciled to each other. But the love he had for his enemies in no way stayed him from seeking their defeat.

Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights Movement, allowed Christianity to empower his quest for equality of all people. He constantly reminded his followers that equality and racial harmony were God's desire for all, and he did it in the face of deep-seated venom taking the form of dogs, arson, murder, fire hoses, and jail time.

In both cases love for the opponent was as prominent as the opposition itself. That is, redemption of the people involved in the sin was kept primary. I suspect all godly causes are characterized this way.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad