The hit television show “American Idol” is rapidly approaching 10 years old. Who wouldn’t agree that the program has enjoyed wild success and made its producers fabulously wealthy? The overall theme of the show seems innocent enough. Hundreds of thousands of wannabe music stars fill stadiums throughout America’s major cities hoping for a shot at future fame and fortune. Throughout each record-breaking season, judges critique and fans scream their approval week by week, whittling down the top 24 to the last contestant standing: the one… the only American Idol! Good, clean American fun.
As a minister, the title left me a bit cold from the start. American idol? Think about it. Certainly most contestants over the years have seemed like pretty nice kids from a variety of interesting backgrounds. But what, if anything, could or should elevate any of the lot to ‘idol’ status?
Maybe it would help to evaluate the term ‘idol’ more closely. Rather than attempt to wax eloquent from the original Biblical languages, Noah Webster’s New Revised Dictionary seems to suit the purpose quite sufficiently. Webster defines ‘idol’ as “a symbol or representation of a god or deity that is worshipped; a person or thing adored.” This common definition begs a question. Is there something or someone in your life that you worship with ‘god-like’ intensity; something or someone that you adore above all else? For the sake of practicality, how might one know if they are an ‘idolater’ — or what the focus of their idolatry is? Consider this simple test. Is there something or someone you spend an inordinate amount of time:
… thinking about?
… adoring and praising publically and privately?
… emulating in specific ways — through lifestyle or priority?
… sacrificing for; investing time and/or money in support of?
Per the description above, people could form an idolatrous relationship with almost anything — and they do. As a child growing up in small-town Nebraska, the beloved Cornhuskers were ‘idolized’ by every tot in every hole-in-the-wall hamlet across the state. A greater privilege none could imagine than suiting up in September for the Big Red in Lincoln.
Other external focuses of adoration often include great orators, actors, politicians, musicians — even a handful of young pop stars dotting the “American Idol” landscape. Many would argue that such fascinations are quite innocent, normal… maybe even healthy. Emotional diversions allow people a means of leisure; escape… even release from the harsh realities of a cruel world. Maybe so… but only to a point. When does the switch occur — transforming a seemingly innocent titillation into a life-altering obsession? When seemingly innocent external dalliances turn inward… and deadly?
In the early 1980s, Art Schlichter’s name was nearly synonymous with Ohio State football. As starting quarterback his freshman through senior seasons, Schlichter had broken all previous OSU scoring records by his senior year. Voted an NCAA All-American and chosen fourth overall into the 1982 NFL draft, he seemingly had the world by the proverbial tail. Unfortunately, Schlichter also possessed a sinister secret that would tarnish his golden boy image and shipwreck his promising career even before it got off the ground. Art’s secret mistress was compulsive gambling; their relationship formed, rather innocently it would seem, at a harness racing track near Columbus, Ohio in his younger years. What has this idolatrous relationship cost him over the years? Everything. At the writing of this article, Schlichter has gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars, declared personal bankruptcy decades ago, spent 12 years in prison, damaged countless lives through the tragic process, and presently appears to be headed back to prison for alleged fraud. Making an honest living is God’s plan for mankind. Seeking wealth quickly and at the expense of others is idolatry in one of it ugliest forms.
For those desiring a more contemporary example, enter Tiger Woods. Woods is hailed by many as the greatest golfer of his generation; maybe of all time. His total wins in golf’s major tournaments are second only to the great Jack Nicklaus. BBC news reported Woods to be the highest paid athlete in the world last year with an income totaling more than $90 million dollars! Handsome, winsome, wildly wealthy and married to a Swedish model; Woods life appeared to be a fairy tale on steroids. Thus, the utter collapse of Woods’ world in 2009 caught everyone by surprise. Hidden idolatry typically does. Tiger’s sexual escapades were exposed quickly and in dramatic fashion. Conservative counts report Woods’ clandestine trysts included more than a dozen secret mistresses — from coast to coast and around the world. Today, Woods’ star is deeply tarnished, his marriage is over… and his golf dominance in serious jeopardy. At the very least, his once vaunted reputation is ruined. What likely began as subtle mental fantasy has resulted in rampant destruction. Sex in marriage is a gift from God. Sexual idolatry kills and destroys. No exceptions.
Unfortunately, illustrations of idolatrous free fall abound — each as sordid as the next. The obvious question, however, is ‘why’? Why can’t people just do what they want, when they want, where they want, as often as they want with whomever they want — without catastrophic repercussions? To put it simply, our Creator says not to. The Bible is clear as to what God created man for… and didn’t create man for; what is healthy and what will destroy. In the giving of the Ten Commandments, God made one thing unmistakably clear: “Idolatry is wrong and if messed with, it will destroy you. There is only one God, and I’m it. Don’t put anything else in your life ahead of me — or it will cost you dearly in the end.” Case closed.
Evaluate your life. Maybe you’ve been on a slippery slope for as long as you can remember… and you’re constantly picking up the pieces of personal crashes along the way. Ask yourself a few simple questions: Have I given God His just due? Have I ever taken the time to find out what He wants from me? Could it be that I’ve allowed an idol to take over my life? These are all questions well worth asking and carefully answering. “American Idol?” Let’s vote for a different name.
About the author
Jim Harper is the pastor of Mountain Bible Church, 302 E. Rancho Road, Payson. Services are at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Sunday.
To learn more about the church and its programs, call (928) 472-7800.