by Pastor Doug Pratt
“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 to ABC. Its panel of judges (with some audience participation) searches annually for an amateur singer to 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.
While the word “idol” in popular use today typically refers to an entertainer or athlete or other celebrity who has achieved fame (and usually wealth) by their 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 or carving or other physical representation. Sometimes 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 core and fundamental spiritual illness of the human race.
A few nights ago, 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.” Obviously, the ad is intended to make people feel confident in the drugs their researchers are developing. But the not-so-subtle message, to me as a believer, is that the modern world is now worshiping another idol. Perhaps someone will soon propose in Congress that we replace the motto on our currency 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 actually a THING, just 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” over the past few months, for example: “Don’t wear a face mask… No, do wear a face mask.”)—and actually, scientific consensus should be in constant change, because the essence of the scientific method is to be always 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, sometime in the future, medical researchers could claim to be able to cure every virus and every cancer, yet we would still be mortal creatures whose earthly bodies will wear out one day. Our ultimate trust and devotion should be reserved for the One who is beyond this life and is our eternal Heavenly Father. That is why God proclaims in Isaiah 42, “I will not yield my praise to idols”: because they are not worthy of our worship. Only He is!