God warns us against idols not because He is jealous of our misguided affections, but because of their dangerous powers of transformation. Our pursuit of them does more than merely turn us away from Him; it changes us—subtly, but inextricably, altering the way we perceive the world, and destroying our ability to correctly recognize the relative value present in all created things. The pursuit of earthly idols—Fame, Mammon, Sex, Food, and a host of others—produces in us the very shortcomings of those things we wrongfully worship; all too quickly, we find ourselves mirroring their blindness, muteness, and deafness, leaving us gasping for the Divine Breath so vital to our salvation.
We like to think of our obsessions and idolatries in Augustinian terms—“Give me chastity and continence, only not yet“—confident that we can dismiss them as quickly and as easily as we please. But if we think that we can transfer our misguided affections back to God at a moment’s notice, we are in for a harsh (and humbling) awakening. …we become like the idols we pursue, and pursuit of earthly idols dooms us to a lifetime struggling to fulfill our infinite desire with finite goods.
“We are what we eat,” it is said. But far more importantly, we become what we worship. Is it such a surprise that worshipping anything but the Infinite Good leaves us unsatisfied?
— Joseph Sousanka, Through a Lens Darkly blog
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.
— Psalm 115:2-8