Human beings have either idolized or demonized themselves throughout history. These days it seems that the pendulum has swung firmly toward the “idolized” side. Optimism about human capabilities has led to people making a god out of themselves!
This idolization has taken on many forms. Many people today accept a more relativistic view of life, believing that “what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me.” According to this perspective, right and wrong is entirely dependent on individual belief and choice, placing the individual in the position of God. Others place their confidence in the dictates of government or science, which are themselves institutions or structures of men.
This trend is also prevalent in religious beliefs, especially in America. Since “secular” and “sacred” have been separated, according to society, and Americans are all about “choice,” how one views the “sacred” is now entirely up to them. People are encouraged to “join the church of your choice.” To believe that only one belief system is true is considered narrow-minded and elitist; instead, people are encouraged to develop a “cafeteria-style” belief system, choosing for themselves elements of various religions to accept while discarding whatever does not suit them. In all of these ideals, the main “chooser” is the self. It is all about what one believes or wants to believe!
This tendency can even manifest itself in people who profess the Bible as their spiritual standard in life. They are more than willing to follow what the Bible says in matters with which they are in agreement, but if a given Bible passage contradicts their belief system, or asks them to do something they do not want to do, they will either ignore the passage, attempt to declare the passage irrelevant to the present day, or distort and pervert the passage in an attempt to justify their perspective.
These all represent a form of idolatry, condemned as a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Granted, people who believe these various ideas about the self are not falling down before a statue, but it remains clear who really is “in charge” in their lives. The self is the one making the decisions. The self, in the end, is the final judge and arbiter. Whether one is a relativist, a follower of the general tendencies of society, or a selective interpreter of the Scriptures, self is placed in the position of God, and the One True God and what He teaches is secondary at best. And it is this very thing that the One True God condemns as idolatry: when man puts anything in front of God and serves it instead!
As in all of these discussions, we must recognize that human beings and their capabilities are not all bad. After all, God made mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Of all the creation, God endowed man alone with the capability of reason and discernment, and He certainly expects mankind to use it (Romans 1:18-20, Acts 17:24-29)! Furthermore, God does not coerce or compel people; instead, He does exhort mankind to choose (Matthew 11:28-30, 1 Timothy 2:4).
Nevertheless, any time man takes a good thing and turns it into the ultimate, he commits idolatry. God has given mankind the faculty of choice, but the choice is not whatever the self wants it to be. Instead, the choice is between serving God or serving unrighteousness (Romans 6:16-23). While man does have reason, he is not capable of rendering proper judgment on every occasion; as Jeremiah says, it is not within man to direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). Solomon clearly establishes that there is a way that seems right to a man, but its way is not life, but death (Proverbs 14:12)!
It is clear that God made man to think and reason, and that God has endowed mankind with free will to decide whether to serve Him or not. These abilities and freedoms were not given so that man would exalt himself and his abilities to a divine level. Instead, man is to recognize that he is limited, finite, and quite prone to sin (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 3:9-23). Humans are to recognize that there is a God who is greater than they are, and that they should look to Him for guidance and instruction (Acts 17:24-29, Proverbs 3:5-8). That guidance and instruction is now found in the Scriptures that God gave to man to equip him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible should be consulted in order to learn what God would have us to do and not as a pretext to justify whatever it is that we desire (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16, Jude 1:10). In all things, we must remember that we are the creation and God the Creator: He is the Potter, we are the clay (Romans 9:20-21). Let us not turn ourselves into gods; instead, let us serve the One True God!
Ethan R. Longhenry