We value and rely on idols in ways that keep us from properly loving and trusting our Creator. In this regard, idols are all deadly. Often, however, we hold onto an idol in virtue of its seemingly positive or pleasant effects in our lives. We may call this a bright idol, as it appears to be good. Money, for instance, appears to be good, but it becomes an idol when we rely on it in ways that detract from God's preeminent role in providing our security, power, and contentment. We attribute powers to money that detract from God, including the power to bring us lasting contentment. While financial resources are often good and even necessary for material well-being, they are not themselves the ultimate source of our well-being and security. They are a gift, even when earned through employment, because the ultimate circumstances of and capacities for our employment come to us by divine gift. You did not earn, for instance, your capacity to think. Indeed, all good things come to us by divine gift and are fitting for our thanks to God (see 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17; John 3:27).
A good thing becomes an idol when we treat it in a way that fails to honor its Giver with proper love and trust. We distort the gift by dishonoring its Giver. Our lives thereby lose lasting satisfaction in needed friendship with our Creator. Besides money, other bright idols include education, intelligence, health and fitness, long life, reputation, freedom, career/professional status, physical appearance, physical strength, fashion/style, social status, social power, morality/virtue, material possessions, personal and family relationships, religion, ministry, sexuality, patriotism, desirable feelings (including excitement, pleasure, and comfort), entertainment, music, food, pets, and sports. Each of these potential idols, if valued by us in a certain way, can obscure the preeminent value of our Creator as trustworthy and loving gift Giver. Indeed, we can value any thing or human person in a way that hinders the love and trust we owe to God. A thing or person then becomes an idol and interferes with our properly loving and trusting God.
Some idols are not pleasant or positive at all. These are dark idols. We can latch on to an obviously unpleasant feature of human experience that stands in the way of our properly loving and trusting God. Familiar examples include fear, self-condemnation, shame, and guilt. Another obvious kind of dark idol is found in addictions, which may start out as seemingly harmless attempts at pleasure. When we seek comfort and pleasure in what does not and cannot deliver, darkness can get a strong foothold in our lives. In addiction we value and become dependent on something other than God in a way that detracts from our properly loving and trusting God. We thereby commit idolatry, and, as a result, death threatens to rob us of life. Our freedom and joy vanish first, as we become prisoners to our addiction. We then need a Rescuer who can free us with the life-giving gift of a relationship of proper love and trust.
In idolatry we rely on something that fails to supply what we need to live in freedom. In relying on what fails us, we need to cover up, to hide, the inadequacy of our idols. This brings about shame and guilt in our conscience. Seeking to redeem our troubles, the Lord uses shame and guilt to move our attention toward Himself. He then seeks to remove shame and guilt through the gift of unearned forgiveness and reconciliation toward us. This is the Good News ratified by the cross of Jesus as the demonstration of God's self-giving merciful love toward us.
When we idolize our shame and guilt, we diminish, if not block, the relief offered us by God's forgiveness and reconciliation. Our shame and guilt become idols that stand in the way of properly loving and trusting God as our effective Deliverer, our true Liberator, from all that imprisons and kills us. We then become hopeless in our own eyes, as if the merciful hand of God cannot reach and heal our troubled hearts. We languish in self-pity and anger, disregarding the available power of God's idol-breaking merciful love. The drive behind such tragic resistance toward freedom is selfish willfulness, our clamoring to be lord of our lives. Only God, however, is our Lord, and this is for our own good. God alone has the power of unselfish love needed to be the Lord and Sustainer of our lives.