Saturday, October 23, 2010

A statement in need of an explanation

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves
any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 19:4)

Those who worship idols are disgraced —
all who brag about their worthless gods.

(Psalm 97:7)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Here's my statement in need of an explanation:

Even as a modern and so-called Christian culture, it's possible that we worship idols more today than at anytime in the history of human existence.

And here's my explanation of that statement.

To most of us, the whole idea of idol worship is obscure and confusing. It makes us crinkle our brows and wonder how anyone could be so silly as to sincerely worship a piece of metal or wood. In fact, we probably wonder why God had to tell the Jews over and over to not do it. I mean, who would want to?

If you're like me, when you think about idol worship you picture an old woman bowing to a statue in a temple, or a group of painted savages dancing around a bonfire in honor of that fire. While that's all fine and accurate, it's also extremely superficial.

And it's precisely that superficiality that allows us to get away with idol worship ourselves.

Important Point #1: An idol is a material representation of an immaterial god.

One of the most insightful things I learned as a Comparative Religions student at university was that even in the most primitive religions, the idols themselves are not considered gods. I seriously doubt that anyone has ever worshiped a piece of wood because it was a piece of wood.

Instead, that little piece of whatever is worshiped so faithfully because it represents something more than itself. The statue or fire or picture acts merely as a visible, tangible, comfortingly present image of the invisible god they serve.

So, putting this point into context for today, what we are actually forbidden to do is worship any god except the LORD (that is, Yahweh**).

But unless I suspect we're all bunch of closet-pagans, why would I have made my original statement? (You know, the one that requires this explanation.)

The answer to that lies in the answer to this: What exactly is a god with a lower case "g"?

Well, for one thing, a god is not a god as we tend to think of "gods".

The Bible is absolutely clear that there is only one God. There are no gods other than Yahweh. There are many spirits, but there are no other gods. The idea that there are many gods (such as in Hinduism) is absolutely unacceptable if you accept the Bible as truth.

So, if there is no such thing as gods, what are these things that the true God warns us not to worship?

Important Point #2: Just as an idol is a material symbol of an immaterial god, a god is an immaterial symbol of a false philosophy.

It's a God substitute. It gives the believer what he desires - what we all desire: meaning, hope, comfort, joy, strength, explanations, identity, belonging, protection, guidance, boundaries, values. Etc, etc.

Every god ever created has stood for something, explained something, demanded something, promised something. That's what gods do.

When God warns us to not worship idols or gods, what He's really telling us is that we must not seek meaning, comfort, hope, etc anywhere other than from Him.

And that is where this whole thing gets sticky and way too close to home.

Important Point #3: Our idols today are much less obvious than those of the past, but we still face them.

We need to be aware that there are hundreds of gods out there that offer meaning, values and answers.

The fact is, we live in a culture saturated with false philosophies such as Humanism (the belief in human potential, values & worth as the greatest good), Materialism (the belief that nothing but matter exists), Rationalism (the belief that only things which can be explained logically can be true), All-Truism (the belief that everything/anything is true to the one who believes it), and No-Truism (the flip side of All-Truism, the belief that nothing at all is really true) - in addition to all the other overtly religious belief systems.

Almost everything we see on TV, read in magazines, or learn in universities takes these philosophies for granted and teaches them as truth.

And every one of them demands our attention and allegiance. Every one of them wants to give us answers to the big questions of life.
- Where did we come from and what is our purpose?
- What do we believe about the world, reality, human nature?
- What is right and wrong - and why?
- What kind of people should we be?
- What can we hope in when in trouble?

The sad thing is we all hold so many beliefs and opinions that we received directly from these idols, instead of from God. And even sadder, we are likely completely unaware of the fact. We just take them as obvious, natural, or common sense "facts". But they're not. They're taught. And we learned them.

That is why we have to be so careful to guard against allowing them to define our beliefs or character.

That is how we avoid worshiping idols in America today.


** Yahweh is the "personal" name of the God of the Bible, of Hebrews and of Christians.