I’ll admit it. I am into watching American Idol. I like to pick my faves during auditions and see how far they can go. I love the emotional drama that is Hollywood Week. Yes, I sometimes vote if I feel a young singer needs my support (much to my husband’s chagrin). And, I even get a little bummed when my picks get booted off. (Sigh. The injustice.)
When American Idol first came out, now thirteen or so seasons ago, a little part of me was worried about whether or not this show was appropriate for Christians to watch. Though I hadn’t seen the show yet, the title alone concerned me. I mean, you only had to make it through one week of Sunday school–at some point in your childhood– to know that anything with the word “idol” in it should be off limits.
Yes, I thought I knew exactly how to follow that first commandment. I had to make sure we didn’t have any of those big-bellied Buddha statues on our property, make sure I never surrendered my jewelry to someone wanting to mold it into a golden calf, and generally, avoid anything with the word idol in it — you know, kind of like avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
So, do I think American Idol should be problematic for Christians to watch? Obviously no (or I’d be quite the hypocrite). Do I think that a Christian with an incredible gift should choose not to participate in the world’s best known singing competition? Absolutely not. Because, here’s what I know about idols. Idols don’t choose their worshippers. Worshippers choose their idols. And, just as in the case of American Idol finalists and even winners, some of them will go on to stardom and find themselves idolized (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson) and some, probably, will not. (i.e. Lee DeWyze who? He actually won. What happened to him?).
God created each of us with hearts to worship. We want to follow something or someone. And, when that thing or person isn’t God, yet, we pursue it as if it will give us happiness or life it becomes an idol. Sometimes our idols are our dreams (to be a great singer for example). Sometimes our idols are our passions (a love for writing, a heart for justice, etc…). And, sometimes, our idols are people, concepts, or goals; ranging from our families, to success, or even to better health. Sometimes these dreams, people, or goals are actually good, acceptable, and healthy parts of our lives. In many cases, God even put them there! But, when they are misplaced in importance, when they are prioritized above the one true God, they can (and easily do) become idols.
So, although I’m not even tempted to bow down to a tacky bronze statue, or, even go too gaga over my favorite American Idol vocalist, my heart has idols. One of them I blogged about here, that is: beauty.
How does the idol of beauty work? Well, it’s pretty hard to miss. Unless you live in a cave, everywhere you look beauty is a beckoning god. The pictures in the magazine say, “look like this and you’ll find happiness.” The on-screen starlets show us that with the right physical appearance we can have everything this world has to offer. Even on Idol you can watch phenomenal singers–who should be lauded just for their talent– transform from normal-looking, attractive girls into women that are more inline with what our culture says is gorgeous — and it looks like they are happier because of it.
The subtle lie of the beauty idol is: If you can be beautiful, you can be saved from this world’s problems. If you are beautiful you won’t be mistreated. If you are beautiful everything will always go your way, walking on sunshine so to speak.
So how does this work in my heart? Truth is: I struggle not to want that beauty. (I want my beauty idol.) I, too often, buy the lie. I want to look airbrushed. And, some days, in my weakness, I spend way too much time thinking about it, obsessing over it, and working towards it. Too often I spend more time worrying about what I look like on the outside than I do contemplating the condition of my heart. I will stew and scheme and plan ways that I can lose those 10 “vanity” pounds. But, do I give the same energy to pursuing ways that I can grow in Christ-likeness, holiness, grace, and humility? Sadly, no. Although I truly want people to think of me as someone who loves others and someone who loves Jesus, I fail as I prioritize and pursue my idol of beauty. Some days I’m guilty of caring more about whether or not others just think I’m pretty.
Another truth about the idol of beauty: it can never satisfy. I know many empirically beautiful women who are still vigorously chasing the idol of beauty because with beauty you can never “arrive.” You will never reach a point of satisfaction where you can say, “That’s enough. I am beautiful, enough.” I have friends that have literally won crowns and earned titles that start with a “Miss” –and they would tell you, they still struggle to feel beautiful enough. When the lie doesn’t pay off like you think it should (i.e. you aren’t blissfully happy) — your only option is to assume you have not yet arrived.
One of the most gifted ministers at discussing the problem of idols in our heart is Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. You can listen to his sermon on idols of the heart, here. If this is all new to you –I encourage you to take the time and give it a listen. But, here’s a mini-summary of how he explains idols of the heart and how a Christian should deal with them. The short answer is: we need to repent. And, we need to recognize that Jesus is the only one who will ever be enough. Whether I’m thinner, taller, tanner, or you name it…there will always be one more thing to improve if I continue to chase the false god of beauty. But, if I chase Jesus He is enough. He will satisfy. He can offer rest from a race to be “more” that will never be won. Dr. Keller states:
The essential dynamic of change in the heart of the Christian runs on a cycle of repentance and faith. Repentance is unmasking the idols of the heart, the motivations for action and bases for identity other than Christ, and then taking them to the Cross. Faith is trusting in the forgiveness of Christ, understanding both the depth of our sin and the worth of Christ’s sacrifice. — Dr. Timothy Keller
What do you think? Do you struggle with idols? Is beauty an idol for you?