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Fallen idols

Fallen idols

It has been a challenging week.

I had a health scare – not Covid related, but serious enough to send me to the emergency room for half a day.  Without going into details, I will say that it reminded me of the words of the singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “I learned as a child not to trust in my body.”  It’s an unsettling feeling when your body is unreliable.

Strangely enough, this episode started while I was meditating on Isaiah 40, wondering how I would illustrate these verses:

With whom, then, will you compare God?
    To what image will you liken him?
 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and fashions silver chains for it.
A person too poor to present such an offering
    selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
    to set up an idol that will not topple.  (Is. 40: 18-20)

It’s a sharp and pointed – even mocking – description of the folly of idol-making.

This comes in the midst of one of the most powerful descriptions of the grandeur of God in all of Scripture.  God is shown to be the maker and measurer of the universe.  All the nations of earth are like a drop in a bucket to him.  People are like grasshoppers.

That grand scale of reference is also used for his wisdom.  Who did God consult before creating everything?  It is a rhetorical question.  Grasshoppers can’t raise their hands.

In that big-picture frame, we turn to man, fashioning idols.  The contrast is striking: here is a god that has to be carefully designed to keep it from falling over!  How silly man is.  As if the creation could create the Creator.  As if the God that spun the universe out of his imagination could become a trinket, an accessory to the self-important life of a tiny human.

But what is an idol to us?  We are too sophisticated to worship statuettes.  Martin Luther, centuries ago, adeptly clues us in:

That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god… He who has money and possessions feels secure and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God….

So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor has also a god, but not this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are withdrawn.

                                        Martin Luther, The Large Catechism
                                                The First Commandment

We are in a year of falling supports.  The pandemic is stripping away all sorts of givens – money, jobs, connections, societal consensus, health.  How many of them are idols?  It depends.  Luther says our reactions reveal what they truly mean to us.  How much we actually trust in them.

The process can be painful.  But the end result is that we can replace our facsimiles with the real thing.  And if a mind-staggering God makes us feel tiny, remember:

God still loves a grasshopper.

God of all creation, the larger you become, the smaller we feel.  Forgive us for turning to other, smaller systems for support and significance.  It’s so hard for us to see what we trust in until it is taken away.  But how deeply we need to have YOU as our true God!  Topple our idols, Lord!

Reader:  What helps you to enlarge your image of God?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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