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White Washed Idolatry

. . for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. 
Exodus 34:14

N orm Wakefield is an author and speaker with a tender heart for men and their families. In his article The Curse of the Standard Bearers: When Idolatry Masquerades as Love, he tells the story about a young man whose parents crossed a very serious boundary. 

Almost overnight, Marty's life changed. His parents decided to become associated with other homeschooling families whose goal was to raise children with godly character. With the new direction for the family came more responsibilities and expectations from his parents. He already felt smothered by their efforts to make him into the type of young person who would give them a good reputation among their peers, but with the change came a tidal wave of standards and goals he felt were impossible to meet.
      Marty didn't make it easy for them. In fact, he questioned them constantly as to why they had to live by all these standards of dress, social etiquette, grooming, facial expressions, entertainment, courtship, attitudes, education, and food. His honest questions brought accusations of rebellion and disrespect, which were not his intentions. Eventually, the conflict became so great that in order to protect their reputation, Marty's parents sent him to live and work with an uncle, hoping God would eventually open his eyes to see the blessing he was rejecting.
      Marty's well-meaning parents were Standard Bearers. Without realizing it, self-ambition (lust for significance and success) and an idolatrous love of man's approval gained ascendancy within their hearts. The curse of the Standard Bearers rested upon them and all the relationships for which they felt responsible. Unwittingly, they looked to standard bearing as the solution to parenting Marty and to gaining significance and acceptance for the whole family. Instead of demonstrating a life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and leading Marty to do the same, they were caught in the enticing trap of a form of religion. They quickly learned what standards were acceptable and not acceptable among those with whom they wished to connect and then commanded obedience from Marty.
      At age fifteen and living at home, Marty knew he should obey his parents, but they never led him to deal with his heart relationship with God. Consequently, the parent-child relationship was always about responsibility and expectations. It's no wonder that Marty felt unloved, controlled, and unvalued. Living by rules and standards cannot build relationships based on God's love and grace. A form of outward obedience may occur, but liberty and love that comes from the Holy Spirit's work internally is overlooked.
      Until Marty has a relationship with Jesus, his parents must teach, train, and demand honor and obedience (Eph. 6:1-4). However, once the Holy Spirit indwells him, Marty should be taught to walk by the Spirit in relationship with the heavenly Father. As Jesus told his disciples, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9). As a son starts to walk by the Spirit, an earthly father should encourage his son’s decision-making and guidance to come from a personal relationship with the heavenly Father, not himself. To the degree that the father makes the decisions and dictates the lifestyle of his believing son, to that degree he hinders his son’s spiritual life. A father’s role should decrease just as John the Baptist’s role decreased when Jesus appeared (John 3:30).[i]

Spiritual abuse, authoritarianism, fear-based control . . . they all have something in common. As we look at our lives, we women who struggle with exhaustive levels of guilt, shame, confusion, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue, and many other heart / soul / mind / body issues, we need to understand that there is a root under everything—one that connects the externals, the features of our environment and upbringing, with the hidden places inside of us. Where our heart hurts. Where it’s dark. Where we have shame, addiction, depression, and pain. But once we identify and eradicate this cancer—oh, sweet child! We find the joy of the New Way and the journey which leads to life!
            But first we must descend into blackness.

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:26-28)

What about honor?
Wakefield mentions something I want to re-emphasize. Marty’s parents were well-meaning. It’s important to acknowledge that virtually all of our parents meant well. They had the best intentions and most sought the Lord in every way possible while raising us. Seeking the truth of pain and acknowledging your struggles does not dishonor your family. Many hesitate under the assumption that to honor is synonymous with to obey, but this is not the case. Moreover, honor is not always a feeling or giving a feeling.
To honor is to esteem, to place weight, to value. This is not mutually exclusive to exposing the effects of a dysfunctional childhood or sin. Honor is a verb—actively giving weight to your parents’ work, position, and sacrifice in your life. You honor them through not settling into apathy but seeking truth, healing, and strengthening your walk of faith. You honor them by fighting the good fight. You honor them by obeying God, by loving Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Which is why identifying the root of our pain is essential.

Root of darkness
            My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
            No other cry carries such agony, such grief as these words of Jesus. As He hung on the cross, our Lord who knew no sin became sin for us and willingly suffered separation, abandonment so that we don’t have to.
As humans, we sin and will struggle with sin all of our days. When others sin against us, we have the opportunity to learn humility and show forgiveness, mercy and grace. But what is sin? Sin is unrighteousness; it separates us from the Almighty. It’s breaking God’s law.
It’s what keeps us from obeying the greatest commandment.  
I said in the last chapter that one of the most subtle, spiritually destructive, and yet accidental ways a parent can overstep their boundary is to infringe on the job of the Holy Spirit. That by doing so, they unwittingly place themselves in a position reserved for God alone—and cause their children to commit idolatry.
Think about a garden. Plants need sunlight to grow, to be strong, to produce fruit. Flowers need the sun to blossom and thrive, and yet they are at the mercy of the elements, having no choice over the environment. They don’t ask for clouds to come along and hide the sun. They can’t make them go away. Yet clouds cut off the source of life. Unless they move, the garden will wither and die.
Like flowers in the sun, we are dependent upon our own Source of life. He is our righteousness.[ii] Anything that stands between us and causes separation is sin. Anytime we look to something or someone else as our source, as our justification and righteousness, we commit idolatry.  And anything that preoccupies and keeps us from loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind is an idol.
Even if it has been erected for us.

White-washed idolatry
This is serious stuff. Because there are so many good, godly things that look right. That’s why our confusion is practically palpable, and why this particular type of dysfunction is so insidious. But godly things are not God, and when they are held up as our source from which we draw life, what controls us, what we serve with heart, mind, soul and strength, when they become as God to us—a god we can see and measure ourselves by—we become idolaters.
It’s a line so thin as to be almost imperceptible. Often our convictions and beliefs rule us as God. Sometimes it’s church. Dad, mom, even the blessing of children can become idols, cloud-like, obscuring our sun which gives life. Our standards, rules, regulations, the law itself become our sustenance. Often the Bible is elevated to God’s position, and parents, speaking and controlling as God—but they are still not God.
As a perfectionist who read the Bible every day and clung to commands to be perfect, holy, and to sin not, I committed idolatry. How? The truth is, Jesus is my perfection. As I listened to voices—my own and others—to keep trying, to press on towards the prize, to not grow weary in doing good, that he who knows to do good and does not do, to him it’s sin . . . I missed the voice that said Come to Me. Rest.
As a girl who ached to please, I sought and served the approval of man. In a curious twist of “I die daily”, I essentially killed myself to gain approval, acceptance and “well done” which  rarely ever came. But despair did, and guilt, depression, and shame. 
I was an idolater, and our idols—they kill, steal, and destroy.
But we need approval. We need acceptance. We need to feel love, nurture and affection. We need to read the Bible, to have standards, convictions. See again the deceptive nature of white-washed idolatry? We take God and re-create Him into something we can touch, feel, and measure ourselves by. We re-create Him in the image of our parents. Scripture. The law. And by taking God’s gifts, and God-given needs, we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator . . . 

 . . . Continue reading in "Quivering Daughters" available spring 2010
© 2010 Hillary McFarland

[i] The Curse of the Standard Bearers: When Idolatry Masquerades as Love by Norm Wakefield. Copyright Spirit of Elijah Ministries | P.O. Box 377 Bulverde, Texas 78163 | www.spiritofelijah.com | Used by Permission.
[ii] Jeremiah 23:5,6


  1. You are such an encouragement! I love your gentle yet firm spirit!!!

  2. Thank you so much for staying balanced! And for acknowledging that our parents only wanted the best for us. That they really did their best. But we still need healing for things that hurt, whether we realize it or not. Thanks for putting words to what so many have experienced!


  3. Hillary this is such a powerful article and such a perfect title....it IS white-washed idolatry. You nailed it!

    Keep up the writing, dear friend. Others need your wisdom birthed from experience and the grace of God.

  4. My sweet friends, what a blessing your encouragement is to me.

  5. "You honor them through not settling into apathy but seeking truth, healing, and strengthening your walk of faith. You honor them by fighting the good fight. You honor them by obeying God, by loving Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength."

    Yes! That is how I want my children to honor me.

    I am so proud of my daughter and the strength of her heart. She does a good job of gently pointing it out to me when I have overstepped my bounds and tried to "direct her steps". I appreciate her so much in this. I don't want to get between the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

    The proverb is "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths".

    I am honored when she lives her own life fully alive in Christ, seeking Him on her own and making her own decisions.

    I am also honored that she is tender with my heart in such moments, and her rebuke is always gentle. She is precious to me, and I appreciate her so much.

    Your words too, Hillary, helped me remember recently that Jesus is exalted over all, and parents are merely close relatives who get the joy of knowing you all your life. That was the point of my "Timely." comment earlier.

    Keep writing!

  6. Oh, shadowspring, thank you for your comment. I so wish I was able to approach my authorities that way. I think the open heart of a parent definitely helps pave the way for a gentle appeal. But that is no excuse for me. I so want to learn to be gentle! I'm learning how to be with children, but it is quite a process. (Had to apologize today for being snappy.) But how do I learn to be gentle with authorities??

  7. Sharon,

    You would have to ask my daughter, not me! =)

    Honestly, my husband and I have spent so many hours in tears, confessing our sins to our daughter and asking her to forgive us. We have had to "bite the bullet" and offer grace and support for her even when we did not at all like the decisions she was making. We prayed many times for her healing.

    Not long ago she was very hardened to us. It is fair to say that she hated me for years. :(

    I think when her father started owning up to her about his abuses towards me- even saying that he was as much to blame for any frustrated screaming on my part as I was, seeing as how he was emotionally and spiritually abusing me at the time- that was when her heart started to melt towards me.

    I was not the perfect self-controlled sweet tempered mom my children deserved. I was depressed and stressed out and hurt much of the time. So of course I had a lot of apologizing and accepting responsibility on my part that had to be done before my daughter could begin to heal.

    So do not be hard on yourself, Sharon. I think you would find that if the authorities in your life would humble themselves before you and ask your forgiveness, you have plenty to offer!

    It is not good to be unguarded when you are around unrepentant people who hurt you. Keep your heart set apart to Jesus, and when it is SAFE to open up to them, you will find it easy.

    My experience anyway. =)

  8. Thank you for sharing this and everything you have on your blog.

  9. {{Amy}} Blessings to you.

  10. It's amazing that the freedom and liberty Christ purchased for His children, has been turned into a construct that looks nothing like Himself or His original intent.

    Blessings upon you for speaking the truth in love.

  11. I know this is an old post but I just started reading this blog...
    I agree with much of what is said here.
    However, shouldn't the Bible be held in God's position considering it is HIS Word. You cannot separate Him from His Word... and in the same sense are there then also Godly things from His WOrd that cannot be separated from Him either??

  12. Anonymous, I understand what you're saying but even Jesus makes the distinction when He says, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. " (John 5:39-40)

    Also, this may sound like semantics, but Jesus is the Word (John 1), not the Bible.

    Thank you for reading and taking time to comment!

  13. thanks for your response..I think I see what you are saying.. but we do believe the Bible is God's Word correct? Therefore, can we separate it from Him. I guess.. well I know, I am just kind of confused..

  14. Anonymous-- It's like the difference between knowing what I wrote in a comment on the Internet and knowing me. My comments are my own words and ideas, yes, so if you read enough of them you might get to know quite a lot about me. But it would be a big mistake to say that the comment is me myself, or that you knew me personally just because you'd read a lot of my words.

    In the same way, the Bible is valuable and essential because it tells us about God and Jesus and what they said, but it would be a sin (idolatry) to make loving the Bible more important than loving God Himself or even, dare I say, loving your neighbors. It's a very subtle trap, but I've seen it happen.

    Compare the famous painting The Treachery of Images for a little philosophical fun.

  15. thanks Eric..makes perfect sense.

  16. Wow, Hillary. This post speaks to me deeply. I grew up in a home where, I'm sure not as a result of my parents *purposefully* directing me this way, I became quite the pharisee by learning as a young child to toe the line of their standards and expectations.

    You are so corrrect about idolatry. The line is SO fine between legalism (a works-based attempt to gain right-standing with God) and obeying God out of a desire to seek Him and love Him.

    I followed some links that lead to your blog yesterday, and have since spent hours reading your posts. Your heart is beautiful, and I see that especially in this post. What a blessing God has given you to recognize real issues and work through them while not lashing out in bitterness. I am blessed by you.

    Oh, and Eric, I love that illustration. It really hit home.

  17. Just brilliant! Whitewashed idolatry, right-on.

    No wonder people are so confused. Feminism and male-dominance are both wrong, so what happens when you see someone rightly only condemning ONE?


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