“You Shall Not Make for Yourself an Idol” (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8)
The second commandment raises the issue of idolatry. Idols are gods of our own creation, gods that we feel will give us what we want. In ancient times, idolatry often took the form of worshiping physical objects. But the issue is really one of trust and devotion. On what do we ultimately pin our hope of well-being and success? Anything that is not capable of fulfilling our hope—that is, anything other than God—is an idol, whether or not it is a physical object. The story of a family forging an idol with the intent to manipulate God, and the disastrous personal, social and economic consequences that follow, are memorably told in Judges 17-21.
In the world of work, it is common to speak of money, fame, and power as potential idols, and rightly so. They are not idols, per se, and in fact may be necessary for us to accomplish our roles in God’s creative and redemptive work in the world. Yet when we imagine that by achieving them our safety and prosperity will be secured, we have begun to fall into idolatry. Idolatry begins when we place our trust and hope in these things more than in God. The same may occur with virtually every other element of success, including preparation, hard work, creativity, risk, wealth and other resources, and even chance. Are we able to recognize when we begin to idolize these things? By God’s grace, we can overcome the temptation to worship them in God’s place.