I had thought we had enough firewood on our backyard pile to get through the winter. Just barely. But just barely wasn’t working for my wife, who pointed out that our fireplace has to replace a lot of fun nixed by the pandemic.
Smart man that I am, I called the “wood guy” and got another load. As I stack the overflow on our back porch today, I mull over the situation in Isaiah 44. There, we have another scathing denouncement of idols, only this time, God points out what should be obvious to Israel.
19 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?”
I take a chunk of wood into the house. It is jarringly incongruous in every room in which I place it. How could anyone worship this? But, the ancient people of God were more subtle – verse 13 tells us a carpenter “shapes it into the form of a man.” A statuette was more personal that a rough block. But to call it a god?
Even the Roman poet Horace saw the silliness in this: “Once I used to be an oak tree… A craftsman, however, preferred I should be a god.”
If you’re like me, though, the problem isn’t manipulating inanimate objects into a god. It’s reducing God down to a Someone we can manipulate. I wrestle with this every day. Do I see God as existing to serve me rather than the other way around?
It is significant that the process of idolatry in this passage culminates with the worshipper praying to the chunk of wood, “Save me; you are my god.” (vs. 17) I wonder: when God exists only to save us – and not as someone we are to serve – is this not, in essence, idolatry? For it is replacing him with something lesser.
A life preserver. A fire extinguisher. A celestial Amazon with same-day delivery.
A chunk of wood we can carve to fit our needs.
What is God’s solution? Over and over, he states his uniqueness.
“This is what the Lord says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
Who then is like me?” (44:6-7a)
He is the Redeemer – yes, he saves his people – but he also the everlasting, eternal God, the all-powerful King, utterly without rival. He is the LORD: the covenantal name that reminds us that his act of redemption was to bring us back to his purposes for us.
He is not a god to prop in the corner to prop up our lives.
So today, rather than asking God to help me in my day, I’m asking, How can I support what you are doing? How do I fit into your plans?
And maybe I’ll leave that chunk of wood on the table for a while. Just as a reminder.
Just to make me stop to think.
Lord, we are so prone to reduce you to a manageable form. Forgive our blockheadedness. We don’t want our comfortable idea of who you are. We want you. Bigger than we can handle. Utterly other. And yet the answer to our deepest needs.
Reader: What aspect of God’s character challenges your thinking the most?