Idolatry is Like a Pacifier

The idolatry in our lives is like a pacifier problem I recently observed.

My friend has a two year-old son who is always sucking on his pacifier. Always. He sucks on his pacifier all day long. He sucks on his pacifier all night long. Two years of all day and all night pacifier sucking has caused a big problem: this toddler’s teeth have hinged forward and up like an old fashioned garage door because of the constant shape and suck of the pacifier.

A pacifier is a good thing. But a pacifier becomes a dangerous and idolatrous thing when we give it our ultimate allegiance–when we suck on it all day long, all night long, for two years. This pacifier has changed the structure and appearance of this little boy’s mouth, and now significant corrective action is required.

Job security, relationships, success, reputation, money, planning, and comfort are also good things. But these become dangerous and idolatrous things when we give them our ultimate allegiance–when these things become the central fixation of our lives rather than our Triune God. Like the pacifier, our constant suck of idolatry slowly but surely changes the deep structure and appearance of our hearts, leaving us in need of significant intervention.

My friend is a good father. He knows what he has to do now. He has to take away the pacifier from his son. With this son, cold turkey is the only method that will work. Daytime will be full of confused crankiness as the son cries out for his familiar pacifier, not understanding why his father withholds it. Nighttime will be the worst. The son has never slept without his pacifier. My friend the father will have to listen to the uncomfortable sounds of tears, restless exhaustion, and anger coming from his son’s crib. This will go on for many nights. It won’t be until many years later that the son understands why his father took away his cherished pacifier.

We all have our pacifiers. We’ve come to love them too much.

Much of this is our fault, our sin. Some of it is not. Had my friend been a more discerning father, he would’ve spotted and stopped his son’s pacifier problem earlier. But he didn’t, and his son’s inordinate love for the pacifier only grew stronger.

This is why the allure of idolatry is so strong in our lives. We attach our attention, affection, and assurance to created things rather than the Creator because of the sin in our own hearts and because of the many ways other people have sinned against us. There’s a double power at work here. When we were young, probably without even knowing it, many of us determined to never again experience the hurt and shame that came from the hands of another person, so we selected a pacifier of self-protection to carry with us at all times.

Some of us chose to not feel. Some chose to always be in control. Some chose to hide. Some chose to be religious. Some of us chose to run away.

Now we’ve grown older. And in rare moments of honesty we’re able to admit, or start to admit, that we have a problem. The pacifier that we thought would protect us and satisfy us, has only hurt us. It’s actually caused us to hurt other people too. This is what always happens when we let something be for us what only God can be for us.

Some of you hurt so bad right now. You hurt because your pacifier has been taken away. Like me, you don’t know how to do life without your pacifier.

But this is what I know about my Sovereign Father: he loves his kids. This never changes. All who repent of running their own life and trust Jesus as Savior have inherited an invincible love relationship with the Father.

And the reason the Father has ripped the pacifier from your clenched mouth is the same reason he chose you before the foundation of the world, justified you at your conversion, and will one day glorify you in his presence: because he loves you! Don’t just read these words, believe these words.

He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!

Child of God, you had a problem and you didn’t know it. You’ve been sucking on a pacifier for years and it’s been damaging you and damaging others. You’ve refused to give it up. Now God has arranged the circumstances of your life to decisively pull the pacifier from your grip. You’re shaken up, but he has you right where he wants you. The only way forward is to trust your Father. Trust him! Let him love you. Trust his plan. Trust him and love him with all your heart. New territory will open up before you.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. I think you forgot the cross in your metaphor… I don’t just need to remember “he loves me;” I need to be called to repent. My idolatry isn’t just hurting me and those around me, it is a deliberate rejection of the love of God to me in the cross – it is me saying to him that the cross isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to tell me that I ought to trust my Father as he pulls the pacifier away – I need to repent of trusting in my idol, remembering that my idolatry destroyed Christ. Yes, I’ve been sinned against, and that has formed me. But I responded sinfully, and chose the idol I chose (vs. the one you chose) because of my own sin complex. Push back?

  2. Steve, I appreciate the comment. My push back: I didn’t forget the cross. The cross and repentance are in the post, though with this post I used some different terminology in places. More to the point, with this post my burden was to accent something that I think is often left out in teaching on idolatry today: that the idol structures in our lives are also a product of other people’s sin against us. I think this is part of why our idolatry is so entrenched. Young Joe Shmoe clutches idols and rejects the love of God in Christ because he has a sinful, unrepentant heart–a heart that is also influenced by the ways Joe Shmoe has been sinned against. A big gospel of both propitiation and expiation (short hand: He loves you) is needed to uproot and replace these idols.

  3. Big gospel is great, and I’m not disagreeing with what you said, per se: I’m not downplaying the aspect of the gospel that you are trying to accent (expiation). I’m simply saying that we should be hesitant to talk about the benefits of the gospel (propitiation, expiation, adoption, etc.) without also accenting the how of the gospel – I have all this because he lost it, took what I deserved, etc. My concern is that we begin to think that what we have in Christ is more the treasure than the Christ we have. Simply rehearsing “He loves me” can end up being Christianized self talk unless I anchor it in “because of Christ.” How can I know this pacifier removal is good? How can I know that I can trust his love? How can I be certain that the way he is removing this – with me kicking and screaming – is actually a good thing? Because he paid the ultimate price for my idolatry in the crushing of his own Son. A big gospel that includes the costliness of the cross is needed to smash and replace these idols. Otherwise you are simply telling me to “try harder” to trust him. Push back.

  4. Justin, this is right on. The triad of “attention, affection, and assurance” are especially the things to keep an eye on. Idolatry is a matter of what catches our eye and then holds our attention, and one of the big questions for daily spiritual life is how God can catch our eye and hold our attention.

  5. Nice post! I’m working through some of these issues in my like now, too. I like your analogy to a pacifier. And, I agree that the solution is to trust God completely.

  6. “Don’t just read these words, believe these words. He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!”

    Thanks for the encouraging word. In the face of dissapointment, trusting God will “withhold no good thing from him whose walk is blameless” can be tough for me. I KNOW He loves me, but I struggle with BELIEVING He loves me.

  7. I got the point of Steve being ignorance in the knowledge of God how can a person trust the Lord and believe in Him until the time hearing the gospel and lead us into repentance. like what happend to paul he lives in idolatry by opposing what the christian do until such time because of God intervention he directly encounter God, after that, he totally changed my point here. everybody have their own idolatry it requires God intervention for us to set us free from this kind of slavery. In my personal experience I didn’t choose Him to serve Him nither to love Him eather. It requires devine power for Him to catch our attention. We can never love God in our own strentgh but with God’s love fo He first loved us, nither choose Him but He choose us before the world begun He knows who are his.Like Bill turpin same here I like the analogy using “PACIFIER”

  8. […] What is so central and precious to your life that if you lost it, you would be in despair? What have you loved, trusted and obeyed more than God? What do you trust functionally in your normal day to day? Where have you put your faith? We have all ascribed God-like qualities to something that is not God. Our lives tend to be controlled by the things or people that we worship. We see certain things in our lives as so important, supreme, & worthy of our worship that we bow down to them and let them dictate how we live. We do this because we see them as trustworthy, worthy of our attention, & give them lordship rights over us.Inevitably, we all suffer from this pervasiveness of idolatry. Ascribing anything other than God with authoritative rights over our lives is idolatry. Typically our idols are good things that we have sinfully turned into ultimate things. We want something (like security or pleasure) so bad that it begins to control us. We begin to look to neutral/good things in our lives (like money or sex) as distorted – we begin to view them as means to our end; we believe the lie that if we get enough of them, we will finally be fulfilled, or happy. So, essentially idols are good things combined with our sinful desires and expectations that we love, trust & obey. These idols of ours, whatever they may be, lord over us with authority that controls our lives. But, no idol is meant to be Lord. They aren’t good at it. In fact, they suck at being Lord. (See Justin Buzzard article.) […]

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