In the years leading up to the Civil War, many opponents of slavery rallied together in hopes of ending servitude and segregation once and for all. According to the History channel, these individuals, known as abolitionists, were committed to “the immediate emancipation of all slaves” regardless of the cost. Men and women like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman took incredible risks in order to encourage and support slaves while fighting for their liberation.
Borrowing terminology reminiscent of this period in our nation’s history, John Starke said, “Idols are slave traders disguised as abolitionists.” This provocative imagery isn’t meant to downplay the plight of the oppressed, but instead to emphasize the severity of idolatry.
An idol is anyone or anything we expect to be and do what only God is and does and thus treat as only God should be treated. People, passions, pursuits, and pleasures all become idols when we look to them to provide ultimate meaning and total satisfaction. God warns against idolatry throughout the Bible with the most explicit instance topping the list of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
In addition to being an affront to God, idolatry harms those who practice it. The reason for this is simple: idols always fail to deliver what they promise. The prophet Isaiah asserted, “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit” (Isaiah 44:9). Instead of providing joy, purpose, satisfaction, and value, idols eventually leave us with a sense of despair, aimlessness, emptiness, and worthlessness. Our futile idol worship perpetuates feelings of insignificance because “those who make [idols] become like them” (Psalm 115:8).
Since, like Starke claims, idols entice us with freedom before duping us into bondage, it’s important we make every effort to avoid deception. By removing our idols’ disguises, we recognize them as imposters and can act accordingly. Idols, like posing abolitionists, may say, “I’m here to guarantee your freedom,” but knowing their true identity allows us to respond emphatically, “No, you’re not!”
Sadly, many of us have bought into idolatry’s fraudulent claims again and again. Because we’ll often do anything or go anywhere if it might mean temporary satisfaction, we’re always susceptible to idolatry’s pull.
Recognizing our idols as counterfeit gods is necessary but insufficient in avoiding future bondage. As – if not more – important than our ability to spot pretenders is our capacity to identify the real thing. Our idols’ promises are fulfilled, not by them, but by our true Liberator.
The question is, will we recognize the One who came to set us free?