Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
With the re-release of The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life our writing team continues with a series of articles on each of the Ten Commandments in July and August!
Helicopter parents are everywhere. Their children are never allowed to fail, make mistakes, or be anything less than perfect. That is, not if the parents have any say in the matter.
A parent myself, I’m tempted by the great trap of helicopter parenting, as I want my own children to be happy, healthy, and successful. I’ve been through many of their life experiences, and I often think I can somehow give them a better life if I could just remove their obstacles, hurts, and failures.
But thinking that I can make my children perfect is nothing short of idolatry.
Three Characteristics All Idols Share
God warns his people to flee idolatry throughout the Bible, beginning with the second of the Ten Commandments:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
Like most people in my generation, I don’t have carved images that I serve. However, idols in my life can be just as real and have several characteristics in common with the idols that God described in Exodus.
1. Idols are something I make.
God describes idols as something you “make for yourself” (Isaiah 2:8). In ancient days, craftsmen carved and sculpted statues to look like animals or people, and set them up as gods to be worshiped. While I am not in the business of carving wooden sculptures, I can still carve out any number of achievements and point to them as accomplishments worthy of credit.
The idols I carve out can be anything—beautiful and well-mannered children, an attractive and manicured home, a successful career, an influential volunteer position. If I can make it, I can worship it.
God’s Word warns about trusting in the work of our own hands.
And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers …and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:10, 12)
2. Idols are something I thank.
Idols are something we credit with the good (and sometimes bad) things that come our way. If the doctor gives me a clean bill of health, then I have my diet to thank. If my retirement account is large, then I can thank my career. If my career is satisfying, then I can thank my education or my intelligence or my family connections.
Idols are not to get credit for the blessings that God supplies, but neither are they to be feared. In ancient days, people offered sacrifices to idols to prevent calamities. Today, we may fear crowds or airplanes or new situations because of the power they have over us. But God’s Word tells us that idols are powerless:
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. (Psalm 96:4-5)
3. Idols are something I love more than God.
In his book, The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life, Pastor Colin Smith says this:
Idolatry confuses the Creator with the creation and regards Yahweh, the One who is to be worshiped, as a resource that exists for our convenience and pleasure.
Grasping this has helped me to see that idolatry comes much closer to home than carved statues of wood and stone. Idolatry involves putting the things we love in the place of God or seeing God as a means of getting the things that we want.
Idolatry is a type of greediness, a love for someone or something that is more than the love for God (Colossians 3:5). I love my husband and my children, but they can easily become idols if they hold first place in my heart. I love my work, and I love the ministry in which I participate in my local church. All are good and worthwhile objects of love, but also potential idols if they replace God in my life.
Guard Yourself Against Idols
Parenting is a blessing. Aspiring to be a good parent is praiseworthy. Yet, as with anything, the risk of idolatry exists. The helicopter parent is at risk of “making” an idol by pouring all effort into shaping the perfect child. A further danger is the temptation to believe that the success of a parent is somehow wrapped up in the success of the child. And finally, the love for the child—a wonderful gift that God has given mom and dad—can easily become a more powerful force in a parent’s life than the parent’s love for God.
First place belongs to God alone: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). According to Matthew Henry, we put 1 John 5:21 into practice by remembering who God is and why he sent his Son:
The God whom you have known is he who made you, who redeemed you by his Son, who has sent his gospel to you, who has pardoned your sins, begotten you unto himself by his Spirit, and given you eternal life. Cleave to him in faith, and love, and constant obedience.
Keeping ourselves from idols seems impossible when we’re surrounded by them, but the opposite of idolatry is a love for God. The second commandment ends with a promise: God will show “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”