It seems strange to us that ancient cultures built wood and stone idols and bowed down to them and worshiped them as gods. As silly as it sounds today to bow down and worship trees and rocks fashioned by hands, we do the same thing in this culture. Our society still worships idols — the idols just take different forms. We worship youth and beauty and technology. We worship fashion and money, and even sports. Some of us worship the god of self.
Even good and necessary things can become our idols. Some people worship their careers, their children, their skills and talents, their pets, or the power they hold in their position. In fact, any time we put something in our life above its rightful place, we are worshiping that thing.
Why Pain Leads Us to Idolatry
What makes us throw ourselves into football or our work or Netflix binges? Why do we spend so much time engaged in these things, instead of having balance in our lives? How does one aspect of our life start to overpower everything else, until we abandon our other responsibilities and focus only on the idol we’ve created?
In many cases, idolatry is the result of trying to escape some pain. Pain comes from many places, like losing a child, getting a divorce, suffering through an abusive childhood, being betrayed by a friend, suffering hurt at the hands of a loved one, and even losing a job. These things can all cause deep wounds that lead to severe emotional pain. Sometimes, that pain lasts for years; even decades.
Society hasn’t given us many good ways to cope with emotional pain. If we have physical pain, we can go to a doctor and get treatments or medications to make us feel better. But in many ways, emotional pain is even worse than physical pain. And the more we try to hide from it or cover it up with unhealthy painkillers, like idolatry, the worse the problem becomes.
For many people today, it’s a lot easier to loose yourself in some idol than to face up to the pain. For example, if you throw yourself behind rooting for your favorite sports team, you don’t have to think about the friend who betrayed you. If you bury yourself in work, you can temporarily numb the pain of losing a child. If you spend all your time fussing over making everything perfect for your kids, you can forget for awhile how your spouse left you to raise them alone.
How to Tell if You’re Using Idolatry to Kill Your Pain
Obsessing too much over anything is a sure sign it has become your idol. You can notice the idols in your life because these are the things that take you away from other things you should be focused on. Does your life lack balance? Do you spend too much time working, while neglecting your family? Or, maybe you spend so much time and energy watching football that you neglect other responsibilities, like mowing the lawn or spending valuable one-on-one time with your spouse and children.
You can even make idols out of otherwise good things! People sometimes idolize their children, showering them with gifts and spending too many hours catering to the needs of the kids, neglecting other important areas of their lives, like their marriage. Your job, your relationships, your car, your money, your hobby — all these things can become idols, especially if you’re trying to escape pain. A healthy life, without the offense of idolatry, is a balanced life. In the healthy, balanced life, no one thing takes more than its share of your attention, adoration, money, time, and other resources.
Pulling out of your idol worship is extremely difficult, because it means facing all that pain without the help of your painkiller! If you stop spending 60-plus hours per week at work, that means you’re going to have to come home and face the difficulties of your marriage, or perhaps a completely empty house. If you stop shopping, you’ll have to face up to that mountain of credit card debt or perhaps the loss of a loved one that you’ve been trying to ‘shop’ out of your mind. Whenever you give up your idol, you must face the reality of the pain that idol is trying to cover up.
Does this sound like you? Have you been using some hobby or responsibility in your life as a painkiller, and now it’s become your idol? If so, then you already know that your idol isn’t a painkiller at all. In fact, the idol brings you much more pain. Our idols never satisfy us. They never love us back. They always leave us more empty and in pain than we were before.
The problem with idols is twofold. First, the time and energy we spend on our idol robs other areas of our lives, including our relationships, our careers, our children, and our futures — depending on what we idolize. Second, the idols cause us additional pain, meaning we have to ‘up’ our dose of painkillers. The more we try to avoid pain by sinking ourselves into an idol, the more pain we cause for ourselves, and the more we depend on our idol to kill our pain! It’s a dangerous, deadly cycle.
Getting Out of Idolatry & Ending the Pain the Right Way
But there is a way out. No matter what idol you’ve turned to trying to ease your pain, there is a PainTaker who can both restore you from idol worship AND heal the pain you’ve been trying to ease. You’ll be relieved to know that you can regain a sense of balance back in your life, without having to give in to the pain and hurt that drove you to your idol in the first place.
When we think of the life of Jesus, we often think of miracles like multiplying the bread and fish, turning water into wine, and walking on water. But, overwhelmingly, Jesus’ ministry involved healing! And it wasn’t just healing physical sickness, like the blind and the lame. Many of his healings involved healing emotional and psychological pain.
For example, the woman at the well had no physical ailments. Her pain came from a deep sense of guilt and shame over a sinful lifestyle. Yet Jesus gladly took her pain, and her testimony was responsible for many people in her city turning to Christ. Many of the very people who shunned and scorned her came to the saving grace of Jesus because of her testimony.
Similarly, the woman caught in adultery was in no physical pain, but her mental anguish was grievous. The religious people dragged her shamefully in front of everyone in town to humiliate and stone her for her sins. But Jesus didn’t shame her, and He didn’t even allow them to stone her, as was the Law in that day. He healed her pain and gave her a whole new reason to “go and sin no more.” He didn’t cover up these ladies’ pain or distract them from their pain. He took it away and gave them new life!
This same PainTaker, Jesus Christ, is still working today. He’s still in the pain-taking business. He’s not mad at you for serving your idols, but He is ready for you to turn away from those and turn to Him. Whatever your pain, whatever the cause, however long you’ve struggled with these issues, He can lead you out. He’s just waiting for you to reach out to Him.
To learn more about the unhealthy ways we deal with life’s pain and how to turn that pain around, with the help of Jesus, visit us this Sunday at Eden Westside Baptist Church. We have services at our Eden campus at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., and at 11 a.m. at our Leeds River Campus, right next to the Shops at Grand River. Come see how your Ultimate PainTaker, Jesus, is ready to help you lose your pain and regain your life.
Painkillers is a special teaching series to help those who are experiencing pain in their life. Please visit www.EdenWestside.org to access the full teaching series, daily video devotions and other resources on this subject. If you would like to talk with someone, please call 205.338.7711.