Note for E2 readers: Towards the end of this writeup, I quote Ephesians 4:17-19 and Romans 1:26-32 using the Amplified Version. As some of you might know, the AMP uses brackets in its text. On E2, using brackets creates a link; ergo, you will see links in these two quotes from Scripture which are actually supposed to be bracketed words. Thank you for your time, your consideration of my work, and your encouragement in my quest to become a more skilled writer. I appreciate E2 and its writers.
II. Why Did People Make Idols?
Suppose you really started to like a certain make and model of a vehicle. The beautiful lines, powerful engine, the wheels, and refined interior begin to resonate with your tastes. The more you saw it, the more you liked it, until finally, you were in love with it. What do you do next? Buy it? You have no money. Drive it? You don't own the car. What do you do? Out of desperation, you carve out a wooden replica, right? Then you pretend it's the real thing... I don't think you would do that. People back then were just plain nuts to make little stone or wooden statues and call them "gods," don't you think? "How can idolatry be such a gargantuan problem today?" you ask. Well, what would you do with this car situation? Think realistically. Do posters come to mind? Magazines? The Internet, perhaps? Walking into your office, room, or opening your locker, what do we see? Do we see the poster or picture of that car that you've madly fallen in love with? Were people really that crazy back then, or did we just change our methods of crafting and retaining idols?
We look at the ancients and think they were so primitive, misguided, and maybe even idiotic. We fail to look into the mirror of our day, though. Idolatry is just as rampant. Are we also so primitive? Are we desperately misguided? Or perhaps the idols of today are so appealing, and so masked by "modern" thinking that their domain has expanded beyond what people realize? Their variety is frightening, because everywhere you turn, they are there.
How did it come to this? To get a better understanding of the motives and conditions behind the invention of idols, we need to understand the structure of a human being based on the way the God of the Bible constructed us. The method of creation used for Eve was different than Adam's, but the constitution of either are basically identical. Now bear with me, because it is crucial to understanding idolatry and its effects.
"Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath or spirit of life, and man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7 AMP) So we see three essential parts to a human:
Let's go over each as quickly as we can, in this order.
The flesh is what was formed out of the ground. A scientific fact that has been established recently shows soil to contain some of the same essential chemical elements that are found in man and animal life. So in retrospect, just as the earth was created for God's glory, so was man. Our flesh is our instrument to bring glory to God in this life on earth. "And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." (Romans 6:13 NKJV)
The most popular understanding is that certain organs are seen as the direct sources of thoughts, emotions, and our will. I stand to say that they are merely responders (for lack of a better term) to the human consciousness, just as the A/C button in my car is a responder to my decision of turning on the air conditioning. Certain parts of our material bodies act as the instruments of our will (such as our brain), but are governed by an immaterial base. What is crucial to understand about the "flesh" is that when an individual centers his/her mind on it, it takes dominion over the soul. This can happen in such magnitude that instead of the soul governing the flesh, the flesh governs the soul. This person is deemed "carnal minded," according to what we read in the Bible. The thoughts, emotions and actions of one who is carnal minded are based on what the flesh feels or wants, which is many times ignorant of what the moral law of the Bible states/implies. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." (Romans 8:5 NKJV)
Each person has what I like to call a piece of God in them, and it's called a spirit. Your spirit is the link to God's Spirit, as it was meant to be from the beginning. The flesh was created using the earth, but the spirit, or the breath of life, came from God Himself, as written, "...and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7 KJV). Your spirit is what houses God's Spirit upon regeneration (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:17). Once a person is regenerated, or born again, that person has a direct link with God, as written, "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him." (1 Corinthians 6:17 NKJV) The Holy Spirit comes down from above (in the metaphoric sense, meaning from the spiritual realm) and makes His home in your spirit, thus making you and the Lord "one spirit." This is the connection that Adam and Eve lost on the day they decided to step out from under God's dominion. People who have not accepted God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ cannot reestablish that spiritual connection (John 14:16). When a person is disconnected from the Father, consequently they are heavily reliant on instinct, emotions, and physical capacities. In such a condition is every human born. If that is so, you say, how come we see unsaved people doing things that seem very "Christian-like" (loving their children, trying to treat people with respect, helping other people in time of need, sacrificing their lives to save others, etc.), even though they are not "Christian"? In every spirit, there are the moral laws that were set as a foundation by God from the very beginning; these moral laws are recognized through what we call a conscience. Whether the connection with God has been reestablished or not, every person's spirit is linked to a conscience.
The soul is what the Bible is referring to as the being (Genesis 2:7). Apropos, a living being is a living soul. Your soul is the collective of your mind, your emotions, and your will; this is the basic constitution of your being. Under these three, all sentient beings on earth operate daily. Your mind determines what is going on around you in the material world, and your emotions are indicators of that mental process. Eventually, you have to make some decisions, and that is the product of your will.
Our souls are also the place of residence for our deepest thoughts, hurts, and highest joys. The heart is the center, the core, of your soul. Unfortunately, the heart is a place that idolatry has the strongest hold of. This has to change. We have all heard the phrase, "a change of heart," but how does a heart just... change? I stand to say that hearts cannot change on their own. Our desires and values can change, however, bringing about different ways of thinking. Sadly, even this does not fully change one's heart. With a "change of heart" comes a change in the way we approach the human need for fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is Who can fully change the heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Material and Immaterial
After this brief overview of the three parts of a human as created by God according to the Bible, we can state that we are made up of material and immaterial parts. Material is something that is in physical existence, or in other words, matter. Flesh and bone, metals, wood, dirt, air, electricity, sound waves, and micro waves are all examples of matter. Some material we cannot see, but are material nonetheless.
Immaterial is something that does not consist of matter. For example, a thought is immaterial. Its point of origination is relevant to material, but its state of being, however, is incorporeal. You cannot see it with your eyes or put it in a bottle, and neither can you hear it physically (contrary to what some would say). Does matter produce things that are not matter? Certain machines can observe the movements and characteristics of the brain, for instance, but no machine can record a thought because it is immaterial (it does not consist of matter).
"This Doesn't Sound Realistic"
"For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God." (1 Corinthians 2:11-12 NKJV) As humans, left to ourselves, we will never understand or accept the knowledge of God, or anything that has to do with Him. Upon our Rebirth, we received a new understanding that allows us to grow in our relationship with our Father through His Son Jesus Christ. This new understanding comes from the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Who opens to us all there is to know. "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things." (1 John 2:20 NKJV)
All there is to know is in our spirit because of the Spirit of God Who lives in the spirit of the regenerated man or woman. If we really want to understand the major problem of idolatry in this world, we have to tap into that knowledge, that "anointing," and we do that by prayer, and meditating on God's Word. Apart from the Spirit of God, we can only understand what is of this world.
An Incomprehensive Look into Non-Canonical Scripture
Now that we have set a few things straight, lets approach the question of this chapter directly. We can receive some stunning insights from the Book of Wisdom, which is translated in a variety of versions (NAB, NKJV, NRSV, etc.). For our study of this book, we will use the New Revised Standard Version. It is important for me to note that I do not lean too heavily on the information recorded in the Book of Wisdom due to its non-canonical status in many theological circles. Nevertheless, we can find irrefutable similarities to canonical Scripture in Wisdom 13 and 14 from which we can glean important information.
According to Wisdom 13, we had missed the mark in finding the Creator. As a result, much of humanity averted to fashioning material to substitute the absence of God in our lives. We began to set our hopes and minds on the material world. However, setting our hopes on material will make us miserable, as it offers no fulfillment of our immaterial parts. "But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those who give the name 'gods' to the works of human hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likenesses of animals, or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand." (Wisdom 13:10 NRSV) People, in their material state, sought to find the immaterial connection to their immaterial parts. They saw the created, and they wanted to find the source of all this wonder. However, we began to worship the created, not finding the Creator.
For those of old, their idols served as representations of glorious men or women. These images were also substitutes for greater, unknown powers that were beyond their reach. These so-called powers were the stars, the sun, the moon, the mighty oceans, the mountains, and so forth, which were created by the Almighty through Jesus Christ, as the Gospel of John, chapter 1 expressly states. For many, human carnality did not allow them to see beyond the natural into the supernatural, where the true Power resides. By reading Wisdom 13, the reliance on the natural realm by man is quite evident.
We continue our study in Chapter 14. Verse 15 reads, "For a father, consumed with grief at an untimely bereavement, made an image of his child, who had been suddenly taken from him; he now honoured as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations." (Wisdom 14:15 NRSV) We can note that this person was in a state of severe grief because of his loss. An immaterial connection was lost to him, and the love he had for his child no longer had a material base to which he could connect or relate. The man with the deceased child then made an image of his son, and according to Wisdom 14:15, he proceeded to elevate this image to a status of divine proportions. Why was it taken to such an extreme? He had to have a material base through which he could have, in some way, an immaterial connection to his son. He honored the lifeless material as having life to which his soul had a connection to. It was a counterfeit, as Paul writes: "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." (Romans 1:22-23 ESV) This father did not regain an immaterial connection with his son, but was swallowed by vanity. That immaterial connection he was seeking could never be achieved using material means.
As we read further in Chapter 14 of the Book of Wisdom, we can see how vanity begins to overwhelm and swallow entire civilizations. The deftness of the ancient artisans was so great that their people began to worship their work, not unlike our culture today. People gave their attention, admiration, affection, and devotion to images made of material. Many were seeking fulfillment by elevating material, only to be left with a void in their hearts. The absence of a true immaterial connection with the One Who had created us led to all sorts of immorality and unreasonable behavior. People elevated other people, giving them more and more of their worship until those individuals were considered and named "gods." These idols and images were thought to have "power." The only powers that were in effect, unfortunately, were the powers of darkness. Paul expresses this in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20: "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons." (ESV) Their worship of these idols, through which they thought they had an immaterial connection with higher powers, led to immorality of every sort and kind.
Based on our study of Chapters 13 and 14 in the Book of Wisdom, we can assert that the worship of images did not begin as a ritualistic practice, but merely as a remembrance of those held in high esteem, or of loved ones. This progressed, however, into extreme vanity, and people began to use their amazement and wonder of these images as grounds to regard them as divine. Once this line was crossed, then began the rituals and rites which eventually led to such things as human sacrificing, sexual immorality, debauchery, and the offering of food to and in the name of lifeless and mute idols.
The study of Wisdom 13 and 14 proved to be interesting, but as I stated previously, I could not find it in me to lean too heavily on these scriptures. What can the canonical Bible tell us?
An Incomprehensive Look into Canonical Scripture
In order to properly address the question of why people made idols, or practiced idolatry, we need to first ask ourselves: why were we created? Romans 1:22-23 can offer us some insight: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things." (KJV) Basically, man went from worshiping the one true God to worshiping counterfeits. One aspect stands out, though: the need to worship seemed to always be there. Paul wasn't referring merely to his time, but to the beginning of time. What he is essentially saying is that we exchanged immaterial for material; the Creator for the created; the Giver for the gift. The change did not occur in the need to worship, but in the direction of worship. Since man was created to worship the Creator, Who is God, he cannot help but worship something.
True worship of the Lord is accomplished through our spirit. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24 KJV) Unfortunately, man's spirit was severed from God on that one particular and horrible day of Adam and Eve's sin. Since our connection to God was severed, we turned to worshiping the next closest thing: ourselves. We are the closest thing to something supernatural, because we are partly immaterial. After Adam and Eve's fall, we sought other means of what we thought would be immaterial fulfillment. Our material parts became our gods, to which we vainly directed our worship.
To put it in other words, the material aspects of our lives became our gods. Every human has passions, whether they seem extravagant or mundane in comparison to each other, and those passions cannot be bottled up for long. Being made in the image of God, we also cannot help but want some sort of order in life. What were people to do? In worshiping themselves, they would eventually lose all control of their minds under the relatively new and seriously powerful emotional and psychological influences they began to experience since the emergence of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. There had to be some sort of external control in place. Under these new and overwhelming physical influences, we began to fashion these external controls and name them "gods." These gods were supposed rulers and judges of war, peace, harvest, fertility, sexuality, the elements, and all things material. Notice how these are all aspects of human existence on this earth. These so-called “gods” were simply projections of human aspects which were in need of an external control.
Look at what Paul writes: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions." (Romans 6:12 ESV). He was writing this to Roman believers in Jesus Christ. To reign is to rule over someone or something. Paul is saying that we must keep our death-bound and earth-bound bodies in check; otherwise, our sinful nature will begin to rule over us, making us “obey its passions.” That is exactly what happened all those ages ago! People had their passions, but were unlimited in their freedom to choose their own paths. The path of choice was to follow their desires, as set by Adam and Eve. However, unchecked passion brings chaos. Humans, being survivors, attempted to suspend this chaos by subconsciously (and then actually) implementing these external controls.
By implementing these external controls, they would allow themselves to keep following their passions while under the superficial “guidance” of their “gods” (or controls). These “gods” were mental punching bags-—external objects at which people could direct outwardly their human aspects.
The root issue of this phenomena is recorded in Ephesians 4:17-19, and it reads: "So this I say and solemnly testify in the name of the Lord as in His presence, that you must no longer live as the heathen (the Gentiles) do in their perverseness in the folly, vanity, and emptiness of their souls and the futility of their minds. Their moral understanding is darkened and their reasoning is beclouded. They are alienated (estranged, self-banished) from the life of God with no share in it; this is because of the ignorance (the want of knowledge and perception, the willful blindness) that is deep-seated in them, due to their hardness of heart to the insensitiveness of their moral nature. In their spiritual apathy they have become callous and past feeling and reckless and have abandoned themselves a prey to unbridled sensuality, eager and greedy to indulge in every form of impurity that their depraved desires may suggest and demand." (AMP) We traded real knowledge for a false knowledge; Adam and Eve lost direction from God in their act of accepting a knowledge that is mortal and limited by material existence.
We took our lives and placed them under our own rulership. The result: the reign of material desires. These material desires eventually had to be brought under control---a superficial control, but a control nevertheless. These "gods" allowed people to continue in their pursuit of material fulfillment, while delaying complete, earth wide chaos. However, this chaos was then manifested through other means: "For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions. For their women exchanged their natural function for an unnatural and abnormal one, and the men also turned from natural relations with women and were set ablaze (burning out, consumed) with lust for one another—men committing shameful acts with men and suffering in their own bodies and personalities the inevitable consequences and penalty of their wrong-doing and going astray, which was their fitting retribution. And so, since they did not see fit to acknowledge God or approve of Him or consider Him worth the knowing, God gave them over to a base and condemned mind to do things not proper or decent but loathsome, until they were filled (permeated and saturated) with every kind of unrighteousness, iniquity, grasping and covetous greed, and malice. They were full of envy and jealousy, murder, strife, deceit and treachery, ill will and cruel ways. They were secret backbiters and gossipers, slanderers, hateful to and hating God, full of insolence, arrogance, and boasting; inventors of new forms of evil, disobedient and undutiful to parents. They were without understanding, conscienceless and faithless, heartless and loveless and merciless. Though they are fully aware of God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them themselves but approve and applaud others who practice them." (Romans 1:26-32 AMP) You can read Romans 1 yourself and see the complete layout.
It is the sincere desire of the enemy to distance us from our Creator, as we saw by the outcome of the serpent's destructive influence on Adam and Eve. Insofar as we can see, idolatry was the first weapon used by the enemy, and is one of the most effective methods that the enemy has used to divert humanity's worship from God. In worshiping ourselves, we turn to things that stimulate our bodies and our souls (because the immaterial connection with God is replaced by a material connection with material). Insodoing, however, the want for more keeps growing and expanding, because there is a need for immaterial fulfillment; this fulfillment will never occur, using material methods. And so, idolatry is a sickening downward spiral into which humanity plunged itself, wanting fulfillment, but never receiving it from the path it had chosen.
So why did people make or craft idols?
Separation from God (Genesis 3:23, Romans 6:23; 7:11)
Vanity (Wisdom 14:14, Romans 1:21,28)
Faithlessness in God (Psalm 14:1)
Greed (Ephesians 5:5)
Desperation (Wisdom 14:21)
Erroneous perceptions (Wisdom 13:1-2)
Belief in the lies of the enemy (Genesis 3:4-5)
The list could probably go on, but the reasons most obvious to me are listed here. I have referenced a few places in Scripture that show these things, but there are many, many more places, be assured. Some we have already read, others not. It will take your desire, prayer, and also the opening of God's Word to find out more of the Truth and what He says about the reasons for the origination of idolatry.