People can be idols or icons
I wrote this letter for my dear friends, Jason and Erin Kreger. They’ll probably read it and think every metaphor is a euphemism for something very, very different.
You are great friends, and I love spending time with you. We have laughed and cried and partied and studied and prayed and played more times than I can possibly recall. When I think about where you fit in all this theology stuff, about the part that might be most meaningful to you, I think about Dave Grohl.
I remember watching Dave Grohl at a Foo Fighters concert and hearing the person next to me exclaim, “He’s a god! A god of rock!” I laughed, but it stuck in my mind. At the time, Dave Grohl was the biggest rock star in the world, and during the concert he was visibly drunk on his relationship with the audience (well, it might not have only been his relationship with the audience).
He was an idol. People worshipped him. Young musicians wanted to be him. Guys wanted to hang out with him. Women wanted to take him home. There was no bigger personality, no more charismatic presence, than onstage Dave.
I’m a Foo Fighters fan, but that night still sticks in my mind as the perfect example of how much we idolize our celebrities.
People can be either idols or icons. Made in the image of our Creator, we all carry within us both the ability and the mandate to reflect God to the world. We are like mirrors. When we’re aimed true, people look at us and are reminded of God’s presence and authority. They see Christ in us. This is the impetus for colloquialisms like “You’re the only Jesus the world will ever see,” or “You are the hands and feet of Christ,” or “You are an advertisement for God.”
But most of us are not aimed true. At least some of the time, we’re aiming our mirror right back at ourselves. We are consumed with ourselves. We stare at ourselves—both metaphorically and actually—and either over-accentuate our flaws or over-celebrate our attractiveness. We run the risk of being self-absorbed.
Sometimes, rather than reflecting God or even ourselves, we reflect the image of someone—or something—else. We can give off a vibe of haughtiness, wealth, ego, or religion, revealing that we have focused our attention on the false gods of position, finance, achievement, or control. In these moments, we end up worshipping something that will never save us.
Sometimes, when we get around exemplary people, we idolize them. Maybe not quite to the same degree as the rockers idolize Dave Grohl, but almost. We admire successful people in our industry or skilled artisans who are further along in their creative competency, and our admiration works as a mechanism shifting their reflection.
Every time we idolize someone—by which I mean admire them to such a degree that our estimation becomes unrealistic, that they stop being a person and start becoming a symbol for success or influence—it’s like we’re shifting the mirror of their lives. Their responsibility is to reflect God to the word, but our over-attention is a kind of energy that moves their mirror away from God and back onto themselves. The more loving attention we give them, the more they’re forced to look at themselves and think, “I’m pretty good, after all.”
I’m not suggesting we should never admire people. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t encourage people or love people or celebrate people. I’m cautioning against over-admiration, over-exhortation, infatuation, and idol-worship.
How impossible would it be to live in the same house as Dave Grohl, with people leaving him voicemails every day telling him he’s a god? How could you ever get him to do the dishes? To sacrifice himself for the way of the cross? To take the narrow road? It’s almost impossible for someone like that to see Christ, let alone his need for Christ, because his whole universe has focused and fixed the mirror of his life onto his own reflection.
Even though our lives are good, they aren’t mean to reflect our goodness–it’s not sufficient to heal the world. We must angle the mirrors of our lives so others see God-in-us, rather than just us, even if we’re not all that bad.