Personal/Family Relationships as Idols

I can easily value a relationship with another human person in a way that hinders the love and trust I owe to God. In addition, I can easily look to a human relationship to provide the kind of satisfaction that only a proper relationship with God can provide. In such cases, human relationships become dangerous idols.

The idolatry of human relationships takes many forms. For instance, my seeking popularity with my friends can interfere with my friendship with God, including my obedience toward God. In addition, in a romantic relationship I can become selfishly dependent on another person in ways that foster selfish jealousy and distort genuine love and trust toward the Lord. In marriage, for instance, my expectation of satisfaction can exceed what a human relationship can actually deliver, and this would hinder my trusting God to satisfy my deepest needs. Likewise, idolatry can emerge in parent-child relationships. Many parents value their children as possessions rather than as gifts from God, and this inevitably detracts from proper love and trust of God as our gift Giver. Idolatry also arises when families value themselves in ways that diminish their loving and trusting God. This often occurs when a family adopts an exclusive clan mentality that fosters competition and division.

We do well to consider Jesus's view of family ties:

Then Jesus's mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?," he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:31-35, NIV)

Jesus clearly deems obeying God's will as more important in a personal relationship than sharing biological ancestry. Indeed, he defines his significant family in terms of those who obey God's will. This is a striking departure from popular ideas of "family values," but it makes good sense once we see that God must be put first in our relationships if they are to be genuinely loving. Jesus is willing to let his Father's will determine even the boundaries of his true family. This is a powerful antidote to idolatry in personal relationships.

Human friendships are special gifts from God to be enjoyed in honor of God. Persons are themselves gifts and not possessions. In an effort to control our own lives, we often grasp at human relationships when we should patiently receive them as gifts from God. In selfish grasping, we make demands on others that are harmful to a faithful relationship that honors God. We then focus on what we can get out the relationship — security, pleasure, excitement, attention — rather than on what we can give, in unselfish love, to the other person. Such a focus is the heart of selfishness. The heart of love, in contrast, always seeks to give what is good to people. Apart from God, who alone removes our selfish fear, we do not have the power to relate to others consistently in unselfish love.

Loneliness is a powerful factor in our making an idol of a human relationship. It often drives us to value a human relationship for a kind of satisfaction it cannot deliver. True loneliness, however, can only be satisfied ultimately by friendship with God. When loneliness is not relieved by God, we come to human relationships with the hope that someone other than God can relieve our loneliness. Idolatry is an inevitable result.

The antidote to the idolatry of human relationships is a proper relationship with God. When we love and trust God aright, in response to the friendship and power of love offered by God, we have no need of such idolatry. It then becomes pointless and even repulsive. Proper intimacy with God is the sole avenue to sound human relationships. God, then, must be placed at the center of all of our relationships as the One worthy of our unqualified love and trust. Only then will we live.

With You

Born from love we move and cry.
Little hands reach out
to touch peace.
Little legs run off and return,
wanting welcome.

Where is the peace now?
Where is the welcome?
Reach – run – return –
to nothing.
No more.
I give up.
Take it.

Take it up
Make it Yours
Make it new
Make it still
Make it stay
in Your welcome
Your peace

Alive from love we move now in love
Living hands reach out
to greet peace
Living legs let the heart
take its rest
with You.


Seek out a place within me, Lord,
a place to make Your stay.
My spirit cries,
Come in!
Come in!
Do not remain outside —
I cannot live without You in,
You love me from within.

I cannot live apart from You.
The outside leaves me dead.
I draw from the Deep within,
where Deep calls unto deep.
The Spirit moves me from within,
to nudge me toward Your love.

Will I receive?

I invite the Spirit in.
New life within me stays.
I become Your dwelling place.
Your Home is now mine too.
Even mine.