Tom Wood writes in Gospelling Life Together:
We admit our own striving for wholeness through approval, comfort or security from others, from self-accomplishment, from this world’s offers of life or even our religious successes, as if they are life.Wood, Dr. Tom. Gospelling Life Together: How Gospel Discipleship Can Change Your Life (p. 69). Sandals in Sand, LLC. Kindle Edition.
I find his words challenging and helpful. Wood highlights three specific types of idolatry, approval, comfort and security.
When we talk about approval, we are describing the need to be recognised, liked, well thought of by others. This can manifest itself in the need to be popular and showered with praise but it can also be seen when we need titles and clear job descriptions that show us what our role and status is within a church, organisation, workplace, club etc. Furthermore, even without needing public showering with lavish praise, we can seek other means of affirmation. Sometimes we just want others quietly and in private to know that we’ve contributed.
When we talk about comfort, we are describing the need to experience a quality of life that we determine as acceptable. We can look for this in leisure, food, material comfort but we can also I think look for comfort in church, seeking a church that doesn’t trouble us too much or expect too much of us but gives us an enjoyable experience.
When we talk about security, we describe our need to feel safe and secure in this world. Security comes from physical strength and material resources/wealth. However, again we can seek security over our spiritual life through our own work and efforts.
I don’t think that the list is intended to be exhaustive, nor do I think that each of us is exclusively drawn to one of these types of idol alone. Indeed, I would be inclined to suggest that the three categories offer different perspectives on the same idol, my own selfishness and desire to be at the centre, my need for life to revolve around me.
However, because these three themes offer different perspectives on idolatry, I also would suggest that it’s fair to say that we will experience them at different levels of prominence and intensity at different times in life and will be more prone to specific temptations due to our circumstances and personality.
At the coaching training I attended the other week, there was a session on source idols and we were presented with a gird that looked at how the three types of idolatry present themselves in terms of our relationships, personal life, mission calling and spiritual life. We were asked to look through the grid to see which areas tended to dominate for us. Now on one level, I have to admit that I could have ticked every box -not the most comfortable of experiences. However, it was true that one theme stood out more than others.
I’m not particularly worried about comfort, I do enjoy a challenge and being stretched. Nor have I found myself particularly concerned about security. On the one hand that might reflect that I’ve not really been tested in those areas for a long time. Yes, there was the point where my paid role came to an end but we weren’t left in a situation where we were destitute. However, I don’t think that this is the number one issue for me at the moment. Rather, it’s the need for approval. And that can be a little hard to recognise because I’m actually instinctively a little shy, I don’t really like having all eyes on me and being British I recoil from over lavish praise!
Yet, I do like to get feedback and I do like to it be positive. Further, the type of person I described earlier who wants others to know they are doing a good job and approve even if they never say it publicly – that person is me. Whilst I tell myself that I don’t need a gtand job title, part of the challenge for me over the past year has been knowing quite where I fit in to the scheme of things. I want people to think of me as someone contributing positively to the kingdom. I fear that people will think I’m just idling about writing articles and chatting on zoom.
So, I am tempted to seek completeness, satisfaction, fulfilment in approval but comfort and security are very much present as tempting idols for me too. You will have your own temptation/idols and it may be helpful for you to think through the same types of questions for yourself.
Now at this time, it may also have struck you that approval (from God), comfort (from the Holy Spirit the comforter) and security/assurance (in Christ) are not bad things in themselves and in fact are good things. The problem comes when I see these things as necessary and able to give me fulfilment, to complete me. The problem comes when I look to these things or their providers instead of to Christ for my joy, satisfaction and hope.
Why not take a bit of time today to think about where your joy, satisfaction and hope comes from. Are you depending on Christ alone?