In light of a message I heard today on the golden calf, I began thinking about idols in my own life: modern day idols that have replaced the Israelites’ calf. The latter part of Acts 17 refers to Paul’s trip to Athens. Acts 17:16 says, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul was distressed when He saw these idols, and through this distress and acknowledgment, he was able to speak to the people of the city about Jesus and was even able to bring some to believe.
This section of the scriptures implies that to speak about idols, one has to be in distress at their presence. And to be distressed, one has to see and acknowledge the existence of idols.
The city of Athens is a lot like New York. As Acts 17:21 says, the people who lived there spent their time “doing nothing but talking about listening to the latest ideas.” They are intellectual but still very religious – as Paul says – because they spend their time worshipping. Yet they are ignorant of the things they worship. Even though I know this to be true in New York, I realize that I am often completely unaware of the idolatry that fills this city’s corners. In fact, most of us are often unaware of the idols in our own lives. We are often unaware of the things we worship, and just like the people of Athens, we worship “An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). And because of our ignorance, we are not distressed. These idols continue to separate us from God.
To go back to Exodus 32:24, Aaron says that when the people of Israel gave him gold and he threw it into the fire, the golden calf came out. Before today’s message, I always thought of idols abstractly. I knew they are internal obstacles to our relationship with God. Yet while this is definitely true, I never thought of the idea that sometimes, the presence of idols in our lives often manifests itself in some way.
God has continued to reveal to me idols in my own life, and while it is distressing to see what metaphorically comes out of me (just like what came out of the fire Aaron stirred), this distress is good because it stems from acknowledgement and – if channeled correctly – leads to repentance, forgiveness, and a stronger belief.