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It’s rather easy thing to look down our noses at God’s people as they are presented in the Bible. Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is honest and true. It is not a thinly veiled power grab. Its only agenda is to show forth the glory of God. And that requires absolute fidelity to reality. We, on the other hand, have a host of hidden agendas. Because we are interested in our own glory, we tend to look at ourselves through rose- colored glasses. And so our view of ourselves is dishonest and false. This accounts for the discrepancy between our own self-perceived righteousness and the folly of God’s people. We assume that we would be like Joshua and Caleb—eager to go and take the Promised Land—instead of like the cowardly 10. We assume that we would press on like Paul, rather than hide and cower like Peter. We put ourselves in the shoes of Nathan rather than on the throne of David as he is confronted with his sin. The trouble with this strategy is that the Bible is not only honest about the warts of our heroes, it is also honest about the heroism of our heroes.
If we want to feel good about ourselves—and we do, because we love ourselves without being told to—it is far better to compare ourselves to those other characters in the Bible, the rogues, the ones who are yet outside the grace of God. Standing next to David before his confession is one thing. But you can stand next to Ahab or Jezebel all day long without worrying that they will ever show you up. The Bible is replete with standards we can beat. It shows us great sins of sinful men. It shows us also the great deeds of sinful men. But it also shows us the dark deeds of dark men.
These fools even have an advantage over the fools in our own day. That is because we have all bowed the knee to one of the great gods of our age—progress. We think even our heathens are better than their heathens. We think even the lost are being sanctified, that we are progressing away from the really bad sins. While we may yet long for the halcyon days of the ’50s, we can at least rejoice that no one sacrifices their children to Molech anymore (or do they?).
We keep an eye out, of course, for the sins with which our unsaved neighbors still struggle. We know what we need to guard against. We shake our heads each Lord’s Day morning as we see them cutting their grass or pulling their boats off to the lake. Our ears cringe when we hear them use God’s name as conversational filler, and our eyes blush when we watch what they call entertainment. But thank the gods of the age that our lost no longer get caught up in the folly of idolatry. You won’t see them bowing down to idols.
Some of us in the church aren’t so wise. A leading evangelist found himself in the position of receiving those blessings that come with being persecuted for Christ’s sake when he recently called Islam “an evil religion.” One wonders, however, how hot the persecution would have become if he had called it, “a false and idolatrous religion.” We are indeed called to love and witness to Muslims (as this evangelist has done for decades), but they are not merely lost. They are not merely violent. They are idolaters. They worship a false god, a god who isn’t.
We don’t talk that way though, because we’ve been told not to by both the theological left and the political right. On the left, our ecumenism denies the possibility of idolatry. We’re all on different paths, after all, but all on the same mountain. On the right, we are supposed to see Muslims as allies, since, you know, they at least have some religion. At least they aren’t like those liberal secularists. They’re part-way right, after all, and we need to build a coalition.
No, one must either trek deep into the Outback or go back into the dark ages of Bible times to find fools bad enough to bow down to idols. We laugh at the obvious folly of laboring for hours on end to shape and mold stone, metal, or wood, and then, when the work is complete, bowing down to the creation and worshiping it. Who would do such a thing? No one would. They just weren’t that foolish. To be sure, they were fools. What they worshiped was not real. But they did not worship the statues they made. Like religious idolaters in our own day, they saw their statues not as the gods themselves, but merely as aids to worship. Sure they offered service to the idols, but they worshiped only what they represented.
Therefore, the fact that most of the idolaters of our day do not bow down to statues they have fashioned by their own hands does not make them superior or more pious. Neither, however, do they stand on equal ground. Neither are they equal in their impiety. Rather, the idolaters of our age have the greater folly. They have even more pudding between their ears. Were they able to experience the joy of laughter, the idolaters of ancient times would laugh at those of our day. They do not worship a god through a creation, through the idol that they make. Instead, they skip worshiping the statue and jump straight to worshiping a god of their creation—something they have constructed in their own minds.
If you doubt this, consider the name of the top idol of our age: God-to-me. “God-to-me,” our unbelieving friends explain, “is like a great pulsating energy.” And then our other friends chime in, “Well, God-to-me is like a big bear, only bigger….” God-to-me can take so many different shapes because he or she is the god of the relativists. God-to-me can be whomever you wish him to be, as long as you do not try to make him God- to-thee. That alone is the unforgivable sin. God-to-me will not be mocked.
The folly is greater in this: Modern (or perhaps I should say post-modern) idolaters don’t even try to hide the strings, to cover their tracks. They admit right up front that this god is their own invention, acknowledging it right in his name. They might as well confess from the beginning: “The god I worship, God-to-me, is not only not my creator but is my creation. He has no being. He is no more real than my pretend friend Fred that I keep in my pocket. Praise be his name.”
You see this clearly in the recent rise of goddess worship. You will never hear an Isis worshiper and/or “scholar” make this claim: “I studied all the religions of the world. And the most compelling apologetic argument comes from Isis. I didn’t want to worship her, you understand, but there was just no escaping the evidence. It was the only intellectually credible thing for me to do.” The high priestesses themselves concede that their “worship” is little more than an attempt to feel a sense of empowerment, to snipe at the petty masculine gods of their unbelieving neighbors, Isis is no goddess; she’s just another version of the old deity, God-to-me.
Which brings us to the real issue. It is not quite true that modern idolaters are more open and honest in their folly. It is not quite true that they worship a god of their own making. It is not even quite true to say that they worship God-to-me. For in admitting that the god they claim to worship is their own creation, they are at the same time admitting that they are the creators. If I create god, then I am the one who must be worshiped and obeyed. In the postmodern world, the individual not only constructs his or her own reality, but constructs his or her own god. The individual becomes not only the lord of heaven and earth, but the lord of lords. I am the god above god. As with all forms of idolatry, this one too reduces down to self-worship.
The God of the Bible is the God who is. That, in fact, is His name. He is the sovereign one, having all authority and all power. But there is at least one thing even God cannot do. He cannot create a god. He cannot create a being that is uncreated, that is greater than He. No, it takes the special hubris of post-modern man to claim to have that kind of power. It’s not something any ordinary fool can do. Rather, it takes a very special kind of fool.
The culture at large has not progressed, but regressed. It has forgotten so much truth, it has thrown out so much history, that it finds itself back in the garden, heeding the promise of him who would be God. He told us that if we would but eat of the fruit, that we would be as gods. In our postmodern world, we not only know good and evil, but we create it. It’s all he ever has to offer. May the living God hasten the day when we won’t get fooled again.