Is Reading Romance Idolatrous?

What a question—is reading romance idolatrous? Some bloggers have suggested that some of the “quieter” Christian fiction (read Amish) can be idolatrous, so why not romance? Why not Christian romance?

Some things we do are clearly forbidden in Scripture. Lust, for example, and greed. So a novel that elicits those sinful desires as its raison d’être should be avoided, right?

Which, I think, is why a number of readers turn to Christian romance. Those stories exist for a greater reason, not just to evoke sensual thoughts and desires.

But I think we might be missing something important: things that end up being idolatrous aren’t necessarily bad.

The Israelites made an idol, for example, of a bronze serpent—the one God told Moses to create and to lift up on a standard in order that those in the camp dying from snake bites could look at it and be healed; the same one the gospel of John references as a metaphor for Jesus being lifted up in crucifixion so that all who believe in Him might be saved.

Clearly there was nothing sinful about that serpent statue—until the people started worshiping it. In the end, that good object designed for a good purpose became a means of disobedience and needed to be destroyed.

[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
– 2 Kings 18:4 (emphasis mine)

But let’s face it, none of us have seen our friends burning incense to a romance novel, at least not in the last decade or so. 😉

Yet we also recognize that making an idol of something entails more than outward worship. There’s that inner attitude that says, this thing or this person is more important than any other person or any other thing.

The danger comes in not recognizing our own attitude shift. When does reading romance—or playing golf, watching ESPN, gardening, shopping, school extra curriculars (you know what I’m talking about—scheduling your child’s piano lesson sandwiched between soccer practice and ballet), even serving on the deacon board—become idolatrous instead of something good and wholesome and fun?

I don’t know that any of us can decide that for others. It’s hard enough to recognize an attitude of idolatry in ourselves. But here’s the thing. I think we need to know that the enjoyments of our lives have the potential to become idols. We need to hold them with open hands, willing to give them up if God asks us to. We need to maintain our focus on things above, not on things on the earth—our enjoyments must not change that focus.

Is reading romance idolatrous? Maybe. It never hurts to do an attitude check and see if something I love is crowding out my love for the One who gave me the capacity to enjoy it.

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