Idolatry and the Online World (Ed Mackenzie)

For all its bloodiness and archaic depictions of tribal life, Judges still speaks powerfully of the allure and temptations of idolatry. In Judges, the worship of false gods leads the Israelites away from true worship, leading to sin and judgement. Key phrases in the book reflect the prevalence of this primal sin; ‘The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord…’ (2:11; 6:1; 13:1), and, ‘all the people did what was right in their own eyes’ (17:6; 21:25).

For the Israelites, idolatry meant worshipping the Canaanite gods, Baal and Asherah, pagan gods who promised much but gave little. Idolatry also meant a wilful ‘forgetting’ of the one true God, refusing God as Lord over all their life.

007-moses-golden-calfLest we write off Judges as a story of ancient Old Testament idolaters, we need to remember that the New Testament writers warn followers of Jesus that idolatry remains an issue. Within that context, of course, pagan gods were also involved, so that Paul needed to give guidelines for how gentile Christians should respond when offered food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8 – 10). Paul identifies idolatry with a turning away from God, exchanging the truth of God for a lie (Rom 1:22-23). Idolatry is more than simply bowing before wooden deities. As Martin Luther classically explained, our god is what we ultimately trust in, whether money, or possessions or security.

What, then, might be the particular idols associated with our interconnected age? No doubt the famous trio of sex, money and power continue to be central, but are there subtler ways in which our life online can draw us away from God?

If we get jitters and shakes when away from the Net, might that indicate that we’re ‘trusting’ in the Web more than we should?

If we find ourselves in a quest to ‘up’ our number of online friends, could that point to the old sin of pride seeking a new kind of boasting?

And if we voyeuristically compare ourselves to happy images of friends on Facebook – as recent research suggests – might that feed the sin of envy?

The online world and all that goes with it brings plenty of benefits – as readers of this blog well know! – but let’s also be savvy about how and when our use of it leads us away from God. God loves us too much to leave us to idols, even ones of our own making.

About Ed Mackenzie

Ed is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church, and has previously worked as a lecturer at Birmingham Christian College and as an Associate Leader of B1 Church. He has a PhD in New Testament studies and lives in Derbyshire with his wife and two sons.