Day 17 – The Three Two-Faced Idols

Matthew 16:21–25; Exodus 20:1–3

In The Importance of Being Foolish, author Brennan Manning identifies three idols and says all other idols fall under these three. I agree with him with a slight addition I’ll mention which I find helps people better identify where they may struggle with idolatry. I’ll make a major alteration tomorrow. The slight addition is to think of the three idols as being two-faced, like coins with heads and tails. They are:

  • seeking security (heads) or escaping insecurity (tails);
  • seeking power or control (heads) or escaping commitment, fear, or insignificance (tails); and
  • seeking pleasure (heads) or escaping pain or numbness (tails).

Idolatry is desiring these things more than we desire God. And remember that when our minds are set on security, control, and pleasure, it leads to death, according to Romans 8. “Death of what?” you may ask. Good question.

Chasing after security or escaping insecurity kills intimacy by eliminating vulnerability, honesty, trust, and transparency. We cannot strive for security while trusting others and being vulnerable. Those things are opposed to one another. But without transparency and trust, we cannot be fully intimate with one another, so our relationships suffer.

Chasing power and control or escaping commitment, fear, or insignificance kills love because it requires us to objectify those around us (whether we are aware of it or not). We cannot manipulate and sacrifice people like pawns on a chessboard if we don’t first objectify them, and we can’t love objects though we may love what objects do for us. People and relationships become means to an end, so lust and envy are cultivated while love dies. Once again, our relationships suffer.

Chasing pleasure or running away from pain kills sensitivity, especially spiritual sensitivity. In junior high, we would tell some naive soul, “I’m going to lightly rub the back of your hand with a pencil eraser and you tell me if it starts to hurt.” We would gently rub the hand with the eraser but the person would never complain . . . until we stopped! Then they howled and ran around the room, grasping their hand or shaking it in the air while we rolled in laughter. At first, the mind pays attention to the nerve impulses. But long before it starts hurting, the nerve endings become numbed and the mind tunes out the impulses, thinking this is a non-threat. Eventually the skin is broken and, when the rubbing stops, the nerve endings and brain become aware of the pain. It’s too late; the damage is done. Similarly, activity to increase pleasure or reduce pain (many of which are good in moderation) slowly lose their potency and require more and more to have the same impact. We lose sensitivity to the effects of these activities until it is too late and some great damage to our lives has been done, usually at the expense of our relationships.

Closing Exercise

Ask God to show you which of these idols you are more likely to pursue. Discuss which idols are most prevalent among your group.