You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- Exodus 20:4-6
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
- 1 John 5:21
I wrote about love of idols in a post by the same name in the “Where is the Love?” Series, but many images are placed before us in a form of worship. We adjust when we go to the television schedule. We consider certain celebrities to be trustworthy and believe everything that they tell us. We will watch certain movies just because of the actor, director, or production company. I know people who only see Oscar nominated movies, thinking that anything not nominated is unworthy. My wife and I read Parents magazine for their ratings of movies, if we were concerned about a particular gray area when the boys were young. A lot of these decisions aren’t necessarily worship, but could easily become worship if we rely on other things for life decisions as opposed to God’s Word.
Remember Thomas. Poor doubting Thomas. He wasn’t at the first appearance of Jesus and he had to make a scene with his doubts. After all, he may have seen Lazarus rise from the dead, because Jesus was alive at the time. Now, Jesus was dead. Jesus wasn’t around to raise Himself from the dead. It’s logical to doubt what you don’t see. Yet, Jesus appeared and Thomas fell to his knees. Why do I bring this up when talking about worshipping an image that has been shaped by man? We always want something that we can hold and touch, but Jesus said (John 20:29), “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
There is a commercial about investing in gold that appears often on the channels that I watch. The old, retired military officer talks about his experience with gold. He feels confident, because it is something that you can touch and hold. I feel sorry for the man. He sounds like Gollum fondling the ring and calling it, “My Precious.” Yet, is any man different? Note: I am not calling physical gold a poor investment. I’m saying that taking the gold out to touch, hold, and call it “My Precious” is all a form of worship. I’d love to have some gold as an investment.
Parental Warning: Adult topic in this paragraph. Genesis 30 has two stories buried within the chapter about Rachel’s penchant for needing something to hold, possibly the reason why God kept her barren. Rachel may have been Jacob’s favorite, but she was barren. Mandrakes were used in the local culture as a means of enhancing the chances for conception. In actuality, this kissing cousin of the night-shade mushrooms was a phallic symbol due to its shape, and their only effect on the human body was possible hallucinations. What Rachel gives up to get the mandrakes from Rueben, Leah’s son, is her rights to go to bed with Jacob (something that might have an effect on getting pregnant). Was Rachel wanting to get high? Was Rachel a firm believer in the local customs? Or did she simply have to have something to hold to believe that she could overcome the curse of a barren womb? It was God who opened her womb (Genesis 30:22). Then later in the chapter, Jacob is pursued by his father-in-law, Laban. Laban catches Jacob at Mizpah. (The Mizpah benediction is in this chapter, originally sworn by Laban and Jacob to promise that they would not expand their territory beyond Mizpah.) Laban is furious that Jacob stole his household gods. Actually Rachel had stolen them. Again, Rachel needed something to see, touch and hold.
If this seems like something that only pertains to biblical times, my wife and I were invited to a preacher’s house, quite some years ago. The preacher (now retired) had invited the choir for a cook-out. He had an 18 inch tall statuette of Budai, the laughing Buddha, in front of his fireplace. Someone asked what it was, and the preacher said that it was a laughing Buddha, and if you kissed it on the tummy, you would get good luck. The guy reached over and started to pick up the statuette. The preacher told him not to do that. The only way that you could get good luck was to lie prostrate before the Buddha and then reach up to kiss him on the tummy. He was a preacher, ordained in the Presbyterian Church, who was encouraging the choir members to bow down before a graven image. I left the room, and soon after left the church.
By the way, Budai is a statue or painted representation of an elder/monk who is laughing (or at least happy) and with a large tummy, but the importance of the Budai is his sack, which no one seems to notice. The Budai is poor, but he is content with all that he possesses in a sack held over his shoulder. (I spent some time in Thailand and studied the meanings of the various Arhats.. Not to worship, but to understand.)
If a tornado destroyed your house, and the resulting rubble caught on fire, leaving nothing, how would you respond? Woe is me; everything is lost? Oh, well, we can rebuild when the insurance check comes in? OR I can’t take anything with me, so this makes my exit from this world easier to manage?
The one thing that we need to hold onto in this world is the Truth found in God’s Word. As Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”