We know what idolatry looks like when we see it! We see people bowing before images, lighting incense and offering food for images. Yes, any traveler in Asia has seen this and recognized it immediately as idolatry.
Paul wrote a disturbing note to the Christians in Colossae saying, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5).
I’m not sure that we would recognize sexual immorality or impurity as idolatry—but certainly not greed! I’m not even sure we know what greed is! Is greed the desire to make as much money as possible? Is greed having more of anything than we need? Is greed acquiring something to the detriment of another?
Erich Fromm, a famous psychologist, said “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Pretty scary definition in a society that coaches us to never be satisfied, to always want more, earn more, build more, grow more, simply More more!
But if Greed is idolatry, then it must be something akin to what we do recognize as idolatry. Are there objects for veneration? Do we attempt to obtain our wishes and desires by serving the idol of Greed? Do we worship Greed but give it a loftier, almost divine name: Manifest Destiny, the American Dream, Capitalism, Business, for instance?
Let me tell you a story that helps me put my wants and desires into proper perspective. My dad went to school in Kansas City during WWII to become a radio operator. His first job after receiving his training was with Braniff Airways, maintaining communications with the pilots in the air. It was a pretty good job in those years—especially for a young, single man.
One day he noticed a beautiful apple green hat in a store window, but it was very expensive. He really wanted that hat, so he saved and saved, walking by that store window everyday to make sure the apple green hat was still there.
Finally, he had saved up enough money to splurge on the apple green hat, so that day after work, he walked into the shop, purchased the apple green hat, put it on and walked out of the store.
Immediately, a gust of wind caught the hat, blew it off his head, and down the gutter hole into the sewer! Irretrievable! Gone!
The moral of the experience for my dad and for all of us children as we heard the story told and retold at home was “Never buy anything you can’t afford to lose!”
Now hearing this story again with more mature ears, I am also reminded that we will lose everything in this world that is not redeemed for eternity. A simple gust of wind blows everything obtained by Greed into the sewer!
Serving anything other than God is idolatry. Desiring anything more than God is idolatry. Loving anything more than God is idolatry.
Do you have an apple green hat in your life?