Religion as Idol

If religion is something we bring about as our means of approaching or pleasing God, then religion can easily become an idol for us. Religion can easily become a means to satisfy our own desires, even selfish desires, in ways that are incompatible with the desires of an perfectly loving God. When religion takes this form, it interferes with our properly loving and trusting God. It then becomes an idol, an obstruction to God's proper role in our lives. This is religion gone bad. It prevents our relating to God on God's terms.

Religion becomes a particularly dangerous idol when it portrays God in our selfish image. The history of religious violence and selfish religious exclusivism shows this. We have a recipe for disaster when our portrait of God reflects our selfishness rather than a perfectly loving Creator and Redeemer. Hate crimes in the name of God, including suicide bombings and ethnic cleansings, are anything but reflective of God. They are motivated by religion as an idol, an idol that reflects selfish human hate rather than divine love. The God portrayed by religion as an idol is unworthy of worship and therefore of the preeminent title "God."

Religion need not be violent to be an idol. It becomes an idol when it is turned into mere ritual. If my religious commitment consists in my engaging in certain rituals, I have replaced the substance of religion with its form. In particular, I have excluded the living God who seeks, via the free gift of friendship with Himself, my transformation toward unselfish love at my deepest level. Any religion that mutes God's effort to transform us toward His perfectly loving character is idolatry and a counterfeit of the true article. It interferes with our properly loving and trusting the true God. It detracts from God's proper place of preeminent honor and respect.

When religion becomes an idol, we see the distortion of something that is ideally reflective of God's character. Such an idol is thus particularly sinister. It gives the appearance of representing God while it actually misrepresents God. It thus defames the perfectly loving God and raises a stumbling block for people who would otherwise be inclined to pursue God.

Jesus ended up on a criminal's cross as a result of certain idolatrous tendencies in religion. He came representing the self-giving love of his Father, but certain religious leaders found his ways intolerable. He had to be eliminated and, for a time, he was. Even so, the ways of idolatrous religion do not prevail. The resurrection of Jesus shows that the true religion of his Father endures even in the face of death. Idolatrous religion lacks the life-giving power of the true article as exemplified by Jesus. Only friendship with the living God can save us from our idols, including religion as an idol. Will we accept the gift of such friendship?



I don't want to be here
in this sad and leaden place.
I'd like to go so far away
beyond fear and disgrace.
I'd like to leave the world behind
so it could never touch me.
I'd like to feel safe just this once,
where breathing doesn't bruise me.

You tell me I'm supposed to stay,
to trust You and obey.
You'll give me everything I need.
And I just want to leave.
Yes I just want to leave.


I'll stay though I am torn.
I'll stay though I am tired.
I'll stay though living makes me cry
while parts of me are dying.
I'll stay because You want me to,
though I can hardly move.
I'll stay because I'm nothing good,
I'm nothing without Love.

I want then just to live with You
forever where You wander.
Where You weave a tapestry
of grace
that heals our hearts.
And so each time You touch me
with words and holy kisses,
tears of thanks and freedom flow.
Once safely, I am Home.




Why should I think my life's a gift?
It isn't clearly obvious.
This life is full of grief and woe,
in general, it's quite strenuous.

Oh sure, there are the pleasant things,
like rhythms deep and even.
But why should I conclude from this
that life to me's been given?
A gift should not, along with gain,
bring to me such fear and pain.
A gift should make me smile and say
that someone cares for me today.

The gift of life is just a box
all wrapped in darkened paper:

If You decide to pass it by,
the gift cannot be valued.
If You reject its ugliness,
it will become unglued.

If You decide to open it,
the gift will have no end.
If You unwrap it patiently,
inside there is a friend.

It is not lovely packaging that
counts so much in giving.
It is the loving in what's given,
and received with heartfelt meaning.

I must conclude my life's a gift
not just because it comes for free
I must conclude that You give life,
because You bring such Joy to me.