The Danger of “Screen” Idolatry

We live in an age of Facebook “likes”, Instagram “selfies”, Twitter feeds, unlimited text messaging, Game of War apps, PlayStation, jumbo sized HD plasma TV’s, podcasts, smartphones, tablets, and junk e-mails. We are inundated with technology on all sides. We are living in the age of the “screen”. If we’re not careful, we can commit the dangerous sin of “screen” idolatry.

Technology in and of itself is not inherently evil. In God’s common grace He has given us technology as a gift to be used for noble purposes and to improve human flourishing. Yet, at the same time, this same technology can become a noose around our necks leading us to a slow death. What exactly is “screen” idolatry? Is this something new to only our digital generation?

In Ezekiel Chapter 8, God commands the prophet Ezekiel to observe what was going on in the temple. In the Old Testament times in Israel, the temple was the physical structure where God manifested His glory and holiness. In the center of the temple resided the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant. God rested upon this in a glory cloud to remind Israel that He dwelt in their presence. The temple was the one sacred place on earth where the living God chose to actually live with His people. What does Ezekiel see happening inside the temple?

Ezekiel 8:9-12 reads: “And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel…Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ”

Within the walls of the very temple itself Ezekiel observed idols engraved all over the place as images that were being wickedly worshipped by the leaders of Israel. The image is of these men sitting alone in their darkened rooms with pictures in front of them of flagrant idolatry. This is nothing less than “screen idolatry” in an age without televisions, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. And to add insult to injury, these men think that God does not see what they are doing. They think they are “safe” in the confines of their darkened rooms watching the wall of idolatry in front of them. The Lord calls this an abomination—something which He hates.

Because of this grievous idolatry, the Lord decides to vacate the temple. In Chapter 10, His glory leaves the temple as a poignant visible symbol of His displeasure with Israel’s “screen” idolatry. In Chapter 14, the Lord provides a strong commentary on what actually happens when His people engage in “screen idolatry.”

Ezekiel 14:2-3 reads: “And the word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?” The real issue with “screen” idolatry is that what you put constantly put in front of your face becomes an eventual idol in your heart. And it also works the other way around. What lies deep in your heart comes out in what you want to put in front of your face. And this “screen” idolatry becomes a stumbling block of iniquity. A trap of wickedness leading down a path of destruction.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with posting on Facebook? Putting a “selfie” on Instagram? Tweeting about your date? Answering a text message? Rockies game on a big screen TV? Getting games from the app store? Checking out the latest game on Playstation? Not necessarily…unless these things become idols in your heart to take the place of God. Unless these “screens” consume your time and energy away from holiness and productivity. Unless these “screens” drive you to ungodly behavior. Unless these “screens” become so much a part of your life that you find yourself in a darkened room with images in front of your face that have become idols deep in your heart.

What does this “screen idolatry” do? In Ezekiel 14:5 God says that the people had become “estranged from Him through their idols.” “Screen” idolatry enstranges us from God. It takes away that intimacy and closeness. The “screen” becomes our all in all and the one thing we live for more than anything else, while God becomes a faint memory.

Think about how “screen” idolatry enslaves you? Do you get your self-esteem from how many people “liked” your Facebook post or do you get depressed or concerned when there’s not enough comments? Are you incessantly checking your smartphone at all times for email or texts or the score that you ignore the people right in front of you. Have you forgotten how to carry on an actual conversation with another human being at the dinner table because you are obsessed with a “screen”?

What is the answer? Is it to throw away all technology and live like we are in the 1800’s? You and I cannot really survive in this high paced digital world of technology without being on a screen from time to time throughout the day. But has it become your obsession? Has it become what drives and motivates you and gives you ultimate purpose?

The answer comes in repentance. Listen to what the living God tells the people in Ezekiel 14:6: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” If your “screen” has become an idol deep in your heart where you forget about God and you become consumed by it, then you need to repent and turn away from it. You need to ask God to give you the grace and strength to have balance in your life when it comes to “screens”. In the words of 1 John 5:21: “Keep yourselves from idols.” If you are guilty of “screen” idolatry, repent of this today and turn and find in Christ all your satisfaction and glory.

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What is Idolatry?

What is idolatry and why is it so corrupting? In Deuteronomy 4:16 and 4:25 Moses warns the nation of Israel to beware lest they “act corruptly” by making a carved image doing evil in the sight of the Lord. The First and Second Commandments prohibit worshipping any other “god” than the living God and elevating created things to the level of idolatry.

In Romans 1:18-25 Paul clearly defines the root issue of idolatry. God has made Himself known through creation, but yet in our sin, we as humans suppress that truth. When you look up at the stars in the sky, you intuitively know there is a Creator. When you look at the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, or look at pictures of the Hubble Telescope, or you’re sitting on the beach watching the waves crash into the shore, or you’re driving through the prairie of Northeastern Colorado, you know deep in your heart that there is a Creator. God has made Himself plain to us in creation.

Yet instead of worshipping and thanking God and believing in Him as the supreme Creator, what do we do instead? We suppress that truth. To suppress means to hold down or push down or hold it back. We don’t acknowledge it but hold it down deep.

And so how does Paul define idolatry? He defines it as the tragic “exchange”. Humans in their sinful states have exchanged the GLORY of God for idols. In Romans 1:25 Paul says that they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator.

So at its core idolatry is when you hold down truth and suppress it and instead you exchange the glory of God and the truth of God for a lie by worshipping an idol. It’s a tragic exchange. You’re trading in the majesty, holiness, glory, and power of God for cheap imitations that you think are going to satisfy.

In America, we don’t fashion or carve idols out of wood or stone like the Israelites did or how other cultures around the world do, but we create idols in our minds. We think that a person or a job or a career or a child or a parent or a lover or money or success or sex or sports or entertainment or a boat or hunting or a farm or a vacation or “you fill in the blank” will give you the satisfaction and wholeness and completeness that your heart aches and longs for. Then you come to realize that all of those things disappoint and fall miserably short because they are idols and the only thing that can satisfy is Christ.

So not only is idolatry sinful, but it is corrupting. When Moses warned the Israelites not to act “corruptly” the word used here in the original Hebrew means that an object like a pot or vase had become ruined. It had become so beyond repair and marred that it was basically useless. 2 Peter 1:3–8 reads, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peter says that in our salvation God has given us everything we need to live for Him and through the gospel we have escaped the corruption of this world. As a result, we are to pursue holiness. We are to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. We are to be growing in Christ and not giving in to the corruption of idolatry. If you continue in the corruption of idolatry instead of pursuing growth and holiness in Christ, Peter says that you will be ineffective and unfruitful.

So the corruption of idolatry really makes you an unfruitful, ineffective Christian. You’re not growing in Christ. You’re not growing in the fruit of the Spirit. You’re not making an impact on others. You’re basically ruined, stained, and corrupt and useless.

As a true Christian it doesn’t mean that you somehow lose your salvation, but it does mean that when we give into the corruption of idolatry, it renders us ineffective, fruitless, and useless in service to Christ and His kingdom.

Let Moses’ words ring in your ears today: Don’t give in to the corruption of idolatry! Don’t trade in the glory of God for cheap imitations that don’t satisfy. Don’t let your idols control you! Don’t become so consumed by created things instead of the Creator that you become ineffective, unfruitful, and corrupt. Instead, seek Jesus today. Find Him as the only satisfaction for your aching heart. Find Him as the only One who can truly forgive your sins and grant you eternal life. Find in Him your all in all!