Idolatry. Martin Luther understood it to mean anything in which we put our trust and faith other than God. (Large Catechism) Idolatry is the reason why God instituted the first commandment in the Decalogue: I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods. All other gods are idols.
The bible is full of examples of idolatry, the most famous perhaps
being Aaron’s golden calf. After the split of the kingdom of Israel
into the northern kingdom of Ephraim and the southern kingdom of Judah,
the leader of Ephraim molded two golden calves (idols) for the people to
worship. (1 Kings 12:26-29) Jesus alluded to the Pharisees’ rigid
devotion to their religious traditions as idolatrous. (Matthew 15:3-9;
23:29-33; Luke 11:42-44; 20:17-19) In the epistles, idolatry is
frequently listed among the sins that followers of Christ should avoid.
(Romans 1:23-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21)
In western theology idolatry is often equated with people’s focus on
possessions, wealth, success, or their own power and autonomy. It’s a
concept with which we’re familiar and which many of us, to a certain
extent, can recognize in our own lives. Yet at the same time it’s easy
for idolatry to remain merely a concept, disembodied and disengaged from
the practice of daily life. It’s easy to ignore the implications of
idolatry, and to avoid recognizing what kind of damage can come from
engaging in it. It’s so embedded in our American culture, so saturating
our common experiences that we’re blinded to its effects.
Literature provides us with characters who embody aspects of our
lives that help us see with clarity, because of the natural distance
between reader and story. The harmful effects of idolatry can more
easily be recognized in a character who takes the concept of idolatry to
extremes. One such fascinating character is Gollum.
Gollum, a.k.a. Smeágol, comes from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien, and resides in the pages and on the screen in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.
Commonly mistaken as either an irredeemably evil creature or an
innocent victim of malevolent forces beyond his control, Gollum/Smeágol
is the most recognizably human of all Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
characters. Through this character we can see the somewhat extreme yet
undeniably familiar consequences of idolatry, which in turn allows us a
glimpse of our own experiences and the consequences that may result
from the choices we make. Continue reading