Wow, how time flies! I wanted to continue posting exerpts from one of my writing projects (see Ten Essentail Words) and realized it was almost three months ago that I left off. If you have not been following along, I encourage you to read through the previous posts, accessible through the category What I’m Writing. If you have been following along, here is another excerpt from Ten Essential Words, this one from chapter three.
While touring Egypt we took in some amazing statues thousands of years old, but still very much impressive even by today’s standards. Some of these statues to various Egyptian pharaohs and deities stood 25 to 30 feet high. Yet they are still just cold, hard rock! My buddies and I were wondering if the stone carver who fashioned some of those statues ever found himself in the temple while various religious ceremonies were taking place around his statue – watching people bow down to his statue – thinking, “I made that out of stone. It was just a rock before I took my chisel to it. It can’t save these people.” I wonder if he ever felt like a fraud – like this was all just a lie.
Because that is what Isaiah calls it:
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such people feed on ashes, a deluded heart misleads them;
they cannot save themselves, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
After the carpenter has labored over this project, after all the time and effort put into this idol, and when he has finally finished his centerpiece and it sits impressively in someone’s shrine, it is still just a piece of wood. Its eyes cannot see anything. Its ears cannot hear the cries for help. Its head does not have a mind to dispense advice. Yet this does not seem to stop anyone. No one stops and asks, “Is not this thing a lie?”
But before we write this off as the silly superstitions of ancient peoples, we need to realize that we can do this very thing as well. We can miss the obvious when it is directly before us. We can settle for a lifeless, powerless form of spirituality. It is exactly what Isaiah was talking about: swapping out an all-powerful God for a powerless imitation. We do this when we put God into our safe, little box. And we do it all the time!
This happens whenever some aspect of God gets uncomfortable for us, and in response we simply disregard the uncomfortable part. We do not like unknowns, so we remove much of the mystery of God. We do not know what to do with some of the more miraculous gifts, so we relegate them to a New Testament phenomenon – something that does not occur today. Old hymns do not seem relevant anymore so we toss them out for only contemporary praise music. Or contemporary music does not sit right with us, so we criticize anything that was written in the last 100 years. We disagree with many of the liberal persuasion, so we insist that God must be a Republican. Or we cite God’s compassion for the poor and conclude that God is a Democrat. We are forced to choose whether God was a Calvinist or an Armenian, and then make that issue the center of our theological universe. I could go on and on with similar examples!
Do you see what is happening in each case? We dismiss what makes us uncomfortable. We reinvent God every time we change our view on a particular issue. As a result, the God we worship becomes a powerless, Calvinist, Republican set of tenants that only responds to old hymns (or just as easily, an emotional, Armenian, Democrat, free spirit that only likes to rock!) But in either case, the god we worship does not match the fullness of God taught in scripture and who reveals himself to us even today. We have relegated God to a more safe, “easy to swallow” version that fits nice and neat into our little box of religion. If you have ever seen the movie Dogma, we end up with “Buddy Jesus” – a very safe, hip, easily marketed version of the actual person of Christ. And after we have stripped away all that makes us uneasy and God fits nicely into our little box, do we ever stop and ask, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”