In a faith and politics forum on Tuesday night, Soledad O'Brien asked North Carolina Senator John Edwards what's the biggest sin he's ever committed. It's hard to tell, he told her; I sin every day.
It would not be hard for me to tell. It's idolatry.
In the Old Testament, God tells his people, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:4).
In the New Testament, a Pharisee, an expert in obeying the law, tests Jesus with the question, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (He's kind of mocking Jesus by calling him "teacher", since everybody knew that Jesus was just a carpenter's son, and the Pharisee had years of learning under his belt.)
Jesus answered him: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:36-38).
Any time we put anything ahead of God in our heart or mind or actions, we are committing idolatry. I can't speak for you, but I do this all the time.
I know that O'Brien was looking for something a little juicier than this, and Edwards was thinking along the same lines, which is why he kind of wiggled out of it. But there was no need for wiggling. He could have said idolatry, too. We all put things ahead of God in our lives: our comfort, our families, our health, our careers, our happiness, being right, having wealth or financial security, our possessions, our reputations, pleasure--the list is as long as human desire.