Drawing the Line Between the Outdoors and Idolatry

Photo by  Jonatan Pie  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

When my wife and I were engaged, I made it abundantly clear to her that nothing was going to come between me and my “heritage.” I was a total ungodly jerk. After we married, God reminded me very quickly that I now had a new responsibility. It was called being a husband, and a few years later, a father. Suddenly, hunting and fishing, while still important, were trumped by the fact that I had to be constantly growing in my ability to deal with relationship situations, teaching, encouraging, and putting my neck on the line when necessary to care for my family. It was all the things that go along with being a leader that put my passion for the outdoors back in its rightful place.

I cringe when I hear of my hunting and fishing peers sacrificing their role in their marriage and family for outdoor pursuits. I’m not saying that every single hunt needs to be laden with over-romanticized guilt. I’m saying that even if the outdoors is our livelihood, we still have a higher calling to be husbands, wives, parents, church members, friends, and so on. In all my years of hunting, the one thing that can make a seemingly innocent time in the outdoors feel completely sour is knowing that I have either overlooked or simply ignored fulfilling my responsibility to someone in my life—just so I can go hunting.

Making Idols from God's Good Gifts

When we purposely trade God’s will for the desires of our flesh, we are essentially worshipping an idol. Which one? Us. The human heart is what Tim Keller calls an “idol factory.” How do we know? Look around you. We can take some the most precious blessings that God gives us and turn them into little gods. What’s the cost? It could be as small as simply disrupting your family’s routine in a way that will take several days to recover. It could be as large as undermining your spouse’s respect for you. Worst of all, it places the focus of worship in your life on you and your glory, rather than on God. Pulling away the veil of the seemingly innocent “outdoors lifestyle” can reveal a person running from God rather than to him, and in the final analysis, uncover an idol.

When we are hunting, fishing, or even working, our relationship issues and responsibilities don’t go away. We simply remove ourselves from them temporarily. What makes spending time in the outdoors so dangerous is that it seems incredibly innocent when we have idolized it. We’re spending a therapeutic moment in God’s creation, right? “Doesn’t that make up for the way I treated my spouse for the last week because I have been procrastinating about doing this month’s budget?” No. It doesn’t.

The Solution to Getting Rid of Our Idols

So what is the solution? It’s not pretty. God doesn’t deal kindly with idolatry. Neither should we. While God will never forsake those who truly believe in him, the Old Testament gives us a picture of how seriously God takes the offense of idolatry. In Judges 2:13-14, we see how God acts toward unrepentant idolaters, even those who were called his chosen people:

They [Israel] abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.

In Romans 1:24-25, we see again how God feels about those who turn from him and worship the creation rather than the one who formed it:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Understanding that our heavenly Father desires his children to worship him alone and gain the spiritual blessings of doing so, we must pursue a whole-hearted worship of God rather than our idols.

Step 1: Identifying the Idol

First, we have to be able to identify if our love for the outdoors (or some other pursuit) is actually an idol. Does it consume our thoughts, our actions, our bank accounts? Is it seemingly demanding everything of us and giving little to nothing tangible in return? Are the sources of nourishment cut off from the other things in our life? Are our spouses, children, and others in our lives withering because of our neglect? If your answer is yes to these things, it’s time to move on to step two.

Step 2: Dismantling the Idol

There has to be an action to dismantle that idol. Pray and ask God to not only strengthen you to be able to walk away from hunting or fishing all together, but also to reveal the specific ways you are idolizing the outdoors. Remember that the outdoors itself is not the evil part of this situation (sometimes taking a walk outside can be one of the best things for you), but it is something you have allowed to usurp the love, time, and devotion that rightly belongs to God. You have to tear that idol down. There’s no other way around it.

Step 3: Putting God First

Finally, in step three, the void the idol made after its destruction must be filled. Once an idol is destroyed, there is a hole that remains. Other idols will immediately work to pour themselves into that hole if we are not diligent to fill it with what God wants.

Why is this important? The better question is, how important is your relationship with God? Don’t let your love for God’s creation become the object of your greatest desire. It will never give you in return what God gives you every day.

Jim Richman is an author, speaker, and outdoorsman. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of a Christian Sportsman, a blog for Christian outdoorsmen from around the world. To find out more about Jim, you can see his full bio here.

This article was originally published under the title "When Heritage Becomes a Hindrance: Drawing the Line Between the Outdoors and Idolatry" in the Journal of a Christian Sportsman blog.

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