“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” – Isaiah 42:8
The hit singing competition show American Idol ran for 15 seasons on the Fox Network, and after a short hiatus, returned two years ago on ABC. Its panel of judges (with some audience participation) searches annually for an amateur singer who will be elevated to national prominence and stardom and given a recording contract. The show is at times fun, at times moving, and at times quite over-the-top. But its very name holds a striking irony—one that biblically literate Christians can easily recognize.
Today the word “idol” typically refers to an entertainer, athlete, or other celebrity who has achieved fame (and often wealth) by his or her exceptional talents. Its original meaning in biblical times was very diﬀerent. An idol was an object of worship by pagan people (often represented by a statue, carving, or other physical representation). Often the idol was a superstitious and primitive depiction of natural forces (such as gods of fertility or harvest). People sought to pray to, sacrifice to, or in some other way appease or bribe the “god” to bless them or help them. In its worst forms, idol worship became horribly corrupt.
In even its most benign forms, worshiping an idol was a substitute for worshiping the One True God. He alone is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the source of ultimate Truth, the Redeemer and Judge, and the all-powerful One who alone can answer our prayers and fulfill our deepest longings. The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1 identifies the worship of idols—substituting false gods for trust in the true God—as the fundamental spiritual illness of the human race.
During the height of the pandemic, I saw a television commercial for a pharmaceutical company. Its narrative went something like this: “In a time of great uncertainty, there is just one thing we can put our confidence in: SCIENCE.” The ad was intended to make people feel confident in the drugs their researchers were developing. But the not-so-subtle message, to me as a believer, is that the modern world hopes that we will worship another idol. Perhaps someone will soon propose in Congress that we replace the motto on our money with “In Science We Trust”!
The reality is that this new idol is as unworthy of our worship and reverence as any ancient statue. There are three logical reasons why science is not the ultimate solution to our human needs and hopes: (1) science is not a THING, but a PROCESS; (2) scientists are fallible human beings with limited knowledge; and (3) scientific consensus, on every issue, is in constant flux (look at the CDC’s conflicting and shifting guidelines). Scientific consensus should be in constant change since the essence of the scientific method is always to be open to new information, data, and insights. Countless times scientists have announced a conclusion that later proved to be inaccurate.
There is also a spiritual reason why we do not bow before the altar of science. Nothing material or natural will last forever. Even our human lives themselves are finite. If medical researchers could claim to be able to cure every virus and every cancer sometime in the future, we would still be mortal creatures whose earthly bodies will wear out one day. As Christians, we reserve our ultimate trust and devotion for the One who is beyond this life and is our eternal Heavenly Father. That is why God proclaims in Isaiah 42 that He will not yield His praise to idols… because they are not worthy of our worship. Only He is!
by Pastor Doug Pratt