by Michael E. Brooks
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16 ESV).
Almost everyone has one or more pet peeves. Each of us has something which especially irritates and aggravates us. It may be a particular noise (chalk on a blackboard?) or a kind of music or movie. It may be someone else’s personal habits or mannerisms.
Most of us are pretty easily set off, usually by things that are relatively minor in true consequence.
One of the things that most offended the Apostle Paul was idolatry. After decades of traveling in lands where people still worship idols, I relate easily to his experience in Athens. The difference between Paul’s issue and ours is their relative importance.
There is much about idolatry that is offensive. First is its illogical nature (read for example Isaiah 44:9-17). Living humans make inanimate objects with their own hands, then ascribe to them supernatural powers. Where is the logic in that?
Idolatry is a false religion, based upon lies.
Idolatry also offends because of its great expense and waste. I have visited cities containing millions of poverty stricken citizens living in filth and hunger, but which were also filled with huge elaborate temples and idols of gold and other precious materials.
Those who built them were impervious to the needs of their fellow humans, and the false gods to whom they were built neither knew nor cared about their suffering.
Finally many idols offend through obscenity and pornography. Pagan religions depict their gods with human-like features and passions, and often show them engaged in profane and obscene acts.
These are not “art” with redeemable qualities, but an attempt to portray the worst and basest aspect of human (and divine) nature, while at the same time titillating and entertaining the worshipper.
The Holy Spirit describes this aspect of idolatry:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hears were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things . . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21-23, 25).
Idolatry is offensive, especially to Christians who have turned to “the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
Those whose spirits are provoked by the sight of idols are responding properly. God himself is offended and enraged by such actions (Romans 1:24, 26).
He will abandon those who do those things to the inevitable consequences of their folly, and visit upon them wrath and retribution (Romans 2:6-11). May his people also be outraged and may they confront such rebellion at every opportunity.