American Idolatry

Hoarders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A few months ago I was introduced for the first time to the television show “Hoarders.”  For those of you who have not seen the show let me explain what it is.   The show features the true stories of people who can’t let go of their stuff.  They have a compulsive need to collect and store things like dolls, newspapers or food.  During the show, loved ones, psychologists and organizational experts are brought in to try to help the hoarders to stop hoarding.


On one episode a middle age hoarder named Phyllis had collected so many dolls and other belongings that she literally had to crawl over mounds of garbage in order to reach the recliner where she eats and sleeps.  Her children became so concerned about her behavior and well being that they threatened to contact Adult Protective Services.  Other episodes have shown a man who had collected such a large stash of games, action figures, books, and novelties that it was nearly impossible to move through his home and automobile lover who faced several million dollars worth of fines if he didn’t get rid of hundreds of junked cars on his property.


Most people who watch this show have the same reaction: they can’t believe people won’t let go of the stuff that is slowly sabotaging important relationships and harming themselves.  Sadly, most people who watch the show miss the greater message of the show.  In some way or another all of us have the potential of acting like hoarders when it comes to our spiritual lives.


One of the fundamental problems a hoarder makes is to place too high a value of something that in reality is nearly worthless.  Sadly, at times they can place an item that most people would regard as garbage in the place of ultimate importance in their lives.  Therefore, what began as an innocent hobby becomes an all-consuming obsession.


In our spiritual lives we have to be on constant guard lest we become the equivalent of a spiritual hoarder.  The Bible has a word for this- it is called idolatry and the Apostle John gives us a special warning about this sin as he concludes his first letter saying, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”


We  need to see something very important here – Satan and the world system he controls have conspired against your soul and want to trap you into exchanging your allegiance to God for something less.  What is even more challenging is that Satan has rigged things so that it is sometimes hard to tell when you are moving towards idolatry.  Augustine had it right when he said, “The heart is an idol factory.”  We can take anything and turn it into an idol in our lives.  In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says that :


 “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lost 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.  It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing.  It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in Christian ministry.  When your meaning in life is to someone else’s life, we may call it “co-dependency” but it is really idolatry.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”


If we are honest we have to admit that all of us are idolaters.  We all have idols that need to be torn down in our lives.  Jesus said that the greatest of all commandments is “To love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind.”





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