Then this weekend I heard a sermon on Acts 17. This is a really beautiful passage in which many profound thoughts are communicated. Out of all the wonderful things said in that sermon, I managed to pick up on the theme of idolatry, somehow. Paul’s rebuke of idolatry matches the sentiments of many in the Old Testament: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”
Popular piety today may not be all about worshiping idols and giving burnt offerings to false gods. But I wonder, how many people today think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone? How many people today think that God is something that can be bought or sold? How many people today think that God is something that we should be consuming, like the right music or the right coffee or the right parties? Come and get your God, made to order just the way you like Him. Easy to fit into your mind and call on at your convenience to make you feel righteous. Easy to pick up, easy to let go of. Also easily not to your taste.
How many people are trying to design a God that fits their worldview? And yet at the same time, how can we NOT have a God that fits our worldview? Or perhaps we’ve forgotten God from our worldview entirely. We haven’t replaced him, we’ve just learned to do without. And rather poorly.
I have recently had an obsession with the Old Testament Prophets. One of my friends posted on FB in the last couple of days that when he reads the book of Hosea, he can’t help but cry. I was very humbled, and actually somewhat envious of how moved he was by this book and determined to read it myself.
I came to the conclusion that there is a great sadness in God’s heart when he looks at the world. Why is the Old Testament so obsessed with the people’s worship of Baal? Baal was God’s biggest rival in the ancient land of Israel. Baal was the god people sacrificed to in order to ensure a good harvest; and much of the Old Testament is concerned with trying to get people to understand that Yahweh was quite as capable of ensuring a good harvest as Baal and that anyway, there was only one god that did everything.
God was quite dismayed when his people abandoned him for a god who was essentially concerned with giving people food and nothing else. People then were wrapped up in the pursuit of material comforts while neglecting Yahweh who was the protector and provider for all their people. How is it that after 4,000 years (at a guess?) we still haven’t learned our lesson? How is it that we still put my paycheque, my career, my pleasure before the society that nourishes and protects us, before the God who is the divine parent of us all?
Hosea compares the pain in God’s heart to a husband betrothed to a prostitute – she sleeps with many men for pleasure and money, and he feels ashamed, alone – angry at her senselessness, angry at his inability to stop her. Hosea himself feels compelled to marry a prostitute and pays her not to sleep with other men any more. This is how God feels when he sees us, desperately chasing after false sources of meaning in this world, running after nonsense, feeling so desperately insecure about our harvests that we neglect to worship him and turn instead to pray to the false idols of our own worries, our fears, and whatever constructs we have for reducing that fear. And Yahweh just longs for us to be faithful to Him.
“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early…”
- Hosea, 6:4
He promises that when we are faithful to him, prosperity for all his people will follow. A legitimate wedding feast, a genuinely good reason to celebrate.
“I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground… And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy.”
- Hosea 2:18-19
But instead, we find still find ourselves neglecting everyone and everything else and just running after the trinket promises of Baal for the one good harvest, the one immediate concern that maybe if we just get it – just get that one good harvest everything will be OK. Is it any wonder that God was so angry, that he promised that by following Baal we just wouldn’t get anywhere?
And yet the need for things compels us to want Baal more than we want Yahweh. Our relationship with the material world, and with our own suffering, is so complicated and so dysfunctional. At least… mine is.