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Idols – nothing? something? demons?

In talking about Allah as an idol the question comes 'If Allah is a false god, does that make him nothing? something? a demon?'  I think Paul might say yes to all three questions:

"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Cor 8:4-6)

Idols are nothing says Paul.  But then he goes on to say they are not just called 'gods' but are gods. And then in chapter 10 he says pagan sacrifices are offered to 'demons'. (1 Cor 10:20).

So are idols nothing? something? or demons?  It seems like Paul is saying 'all three.'  How can that be?  Well it's important that we take seriously the language of 'gods' (little 'g') and 'demons'.  (Ex 15:11, 1 Kings 8:25, Deut 10:17, Ps 82:1; Deut 32:16-21 - thanks Otepoti for these).

I think false gods are demonic. Their 'nothingness' is not a non-existence but rather an ontological lack. They are like a gaping hole - a nothing where there should be a something. A hole is not non-existent but it does have its existence in being a deficiency, a denigration. They are not unreal or non-existent. They are just 'nothing.' Their whole power and being is in being a negation.

Think of how John describes light and darkness. Light is something.  Darkness is not something - certainly not like Light is something.  Darkness is not unreal or non-existent but it still depends on being not light. On one hand it is a terrible power (a fearful something). But in another sense it is nothing - its whole existence is an existence in negation. I think idols are like this.

But again this is not to say the forces behind these dumb idols are impotent. Far from it - they have a fearsome dark power. Think of Deut 32

"16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God--gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. 18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. 20 "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. 21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols."

Here these gods 'recently appear'.  They are 'no god' and 'worthless idols' but nonetheless they are 'gods' - 'demons' even.  Can we say then that objects of worship that are not God are nothing in themselves but become spiritual realities when worshipped.  Demonic forces (which, again, are 'dark' forces - having their being in negating what is True) inhabit dumb idols when we invest them with power.  When we seek life in what is dead it is not a neutral spiritual issue - the powers of darkness are involved.

 So yes, idols are nothing.  And something.  And demons. 

What say you?


7 thoughts on “Idols – nothing? something? demons?

  1. yemsee

    an ontological lack! =)

    yea darkness which is a creation of the Lord - Is 45:7
    is a darkness that can be felt.. yet it is simply there to be cast out, to be destroyed?

    perhaps not a nothingness but an inevitability of destruction?
    or a uselessness, like a black hole kind of thing, that seeks only the destruction of others?

    since the term gods - i'm assuming derived from Elohiym - which denotes not just strong and mighty, but strong and mighty in the shepherd sense, i.e. to save
    so they are gods that are not gods?

    Christ even calls men (to whom the word of God came) gods - John 10/Ps 82 anyway, who will die like men - and Scripture cannot be broken

    in relation to non-gods what do you think of this?
    Ezekiel 6:2-6 2 "Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, 3 and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD! Thus says the Lord GOD to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. 5 And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out.

  2. Dan Hames


    I read a very interesting book by Mike Taylor on 'spiritual warfare'. He made a case that in some cases gods that appear to be living and active are like 'PO Boxes' for demons who are decieving people.

    He argued the same for stuff like 'hauntings' and 'ghosts'

    I think this fits with your 'ontological lack'.

  3. yemsee

    speaking of ontological lacks..

    like the church is 'everything in everyway' (or all in all)

    as in everything outside of Christ is destined for destruction and in some sense is nothing?

  4. glenscriv

    Dan, I like the PO box illustration. Very helpful. So does Mike Taylor speak about Allah at all? I wonder what order of demon picks up Allah's mail.

    Where was I reading recently that Luther thought Allah (or at least Islam) was the beast out of the earth of Rev 13. Was it you?

    Dev, don't quite understand the Ezek ref.

    Also, having used 'ontological lack' I don't think I like it any more. But yes, it's trying to convey the parasitic nature of evil. Darkness is real but it's real as an absence of something - light. In that context all outside the light that the Triune God *is* is darkness. Cf 1 John 1:5-7

    "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

    Or John 1:4-5:

    4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood/overcome/taken in it.

    We should be struck by just how weird it is that there *is* such a thing as darkness given who Christ is. But nonetheless there is this thing called darkness that somehow exists as the negation of Christ in His world. I dunno. I keep just making the same simple point but I can't quite see beyond to how to co-ordinate these truths or see where they lead.

    Happy Good Friday by the way.

  5. Joseph Lai


    Bultmann see "the basic meaning of 'truth ' in John as God' reality, which, since God is the Creator, is the only true reality. ------ So truth is not the
    teaching of about God transmited by Jusus bit is God's very reality revealing itself-occurring! -in Jesus.(Leon Morris P 294)

    Such explanation may not be full, but in the light of Revelation, this may sounds meaningful.

    "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." ( Rev 1:8)

    And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, (Rev 19:11)

    So may be such translation of John 14:6 as follows may mean something

    I am the way, the true Is, the life.

    It is not easy to be in truth. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

    Even Paul said: I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit… (Romans 9:1)

    The conscience is not realiable . Only in the Holy Spirit will the conscience is
    close to the truth. How about our ration?

    May be only in true Is, we shall in Spirit. And only in Spirit, we shall in True is. (Walking in truth is a derivative of the True Is.)( John 4:24)

    Very often, we consider ourselves as are or having something, but in fact we are not or having nothing, yet we do not know that. So it is idol. May God have mercy on us, because our heart are factory of the idols. We can turn something holy to something evil. (See Romans 7, Matthew 4- the vesres quoted by the tempter). Lord, make me a servant not only of words but of the Spirit(II Corithians 3:6)

  6. Anthony Buzzard

    Yes, You are very clear, as was Jesus and Paul. The demons are real and they are seducing spirits (I Tim 4:1). They have induced the churches to affirm a Triune creed which Jesus did not believe in. See Mk 12:29."The Lord our God is one Lord."

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