by Mike Pyatt
Facedown. That’s where a massive 38 feet tall bronze covered statue of the “Goddess of Mercy” landed, after doing a face dive in Okinawa, Japan, that didn’t survive Typhoon Trami. Also known as “Mother of Mercy,” Buddhist statue Kannon Same, stood there to “answer request of her petitioners.” It had recently been bolstered by steel beams to survive such assaults. In Japan there’re at least 33 similar “posts of worship” of her likeness. She went the way all false gods go. Powerless and impotent, built by pagan hands, in garish defiance of the True and Living God. According to one Bible researcher there were more than one-thousand false gods in the Old Testament. Ancient Egypt had more than forty false gods. God sent plagues mocking their top ten idols. It’s well chronicled that Israelites were involved in idolatrous worship of such gods. At the foot of Mount Sinai, Israelites worshipped a golden calf, fashioned by Aaron, before Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, that expressly prohibited such idolatrous worship, cited in Exodus 20:3, ”You shall have no other gods before me.” In Paul’s Areopagus speech he referenced an inscription “To an unknown god.” Hindus in India still worship cows. According to Virgil, Augustus was divinely appointed. After 12 B.C. he became Pontifex Maximus. But a human god is a poor foundation and Rome fell.
The Old Testament’s rife with false gods like Amon, chief god of Egypt, Asherah, Canaanite goddess, Ashtoreth, goddess of war and fertility, the consort of Baal, and Ishtar in Babylon. To the Greeks she was Aphrodite, and to the Romans it was Venus. Numerous attempts were made to halt the worship of Baal and other false gods to no avail, despite God’s warnings and condemnations. In Acts, Zeus and Hermes were the patron gods of Lystra, and Artemis was the Greek name for the Roman goddess. Ps.115:4-8 described their folly, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel…Those who make them become like them.” Both the idol and those who rely on them are feckless. That danger, nearly three millennia later, still persist.
Idolatry has taken various forms throughout the ages. Some idols were carved out of wood, others of precious metals, like the Buddhist statue in Okinawa. In America idols are slightly more sophisticated and nuanced. Even things, not biblically prohibited, or inherently evil, like money, politics, relationships, sex, and knowledge, when used inordinately, or to addiction, are a snare to our human condition. For centuries Christians understood we are created by the Eternal God, have confessed that our “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Despite that, with His mark upon us, we’re prone to wander from the God revealed in the Scriptures, and exchange it for “gods of our own making.” A sad commentary on generations who should know better. Idolatry isn’t just a pagan issue. It’s not just an Old Testament issue. It’s a human dilemma. The danger isn’t in a carved figure-it’s we Fallen mortals. Our culture’s subtly creative in that realm.
Why would an “enlightened” culture defy centuries of Christian theology, biblical revelation, and exchange it for fleshly, immediate gratification? It’s easy to examine our cultural, educational, and social landscape and assail secular humanism for oft-time pagan behavior. That’s symptomatic. Few in America would fashion a golden calf today and invite worshippers. It’s not that obvious. With rare exceptions, our Western Civilization, for all its magnificence, is drawn to the visible and physical senses. God cannot be seen or measured in human terms, cannot be touched or controlled. Therefore, our propensity for sensory gratification, we’re prone to idolize that which can be seen, touched and deified, above His creation. As the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, their citizens and millions worldwide were devastated. An edifice, built with hands in the fifteenth century by craftsman, many whom saw it as God’s work, in a country where few attend church, mostly proud secularist, were nearly delusional. Its historical architectural, cultural, religious and artistic value not withstanding, one could see that God’s glory was obscured by quasi-hysterical worship of a structure itself. When that iconic cross collapsed, many behaved as if Christianity was on the ropes.
Another reason we’re prone to waywardness is because we’re predisposed to be autonomous, unaccountable to a Holy God. Idolatry is tempting because in the minds of many, it bewitchingly “liberates” them from the God who deserves their devotion and trust. In the U.S. we’ve grown accustomed to “God words” that are vacuous of substance, delivering their desired “kind of god.” One must reject this faulty, naive yearning for a world with no epistemological boundaries, where good and evil are relative, found imprisoned in false and heretical movements. Pantheism’s the origin of the recent blasphemous “green movement” that worships the flora and fauna of Mother Earth. Many prefer a god they can mollify. Not the Infinite/Personal God who tells us the truth about ourselves. Can one worship at the altar of materialism all week, then make a convenient guest appearance at church Sunday? Chasing affluence may be trifling with idolatry-it’s a four lane highway with no speed limit-but the pay toll’s at the end. Autonomous man’s at the zenith of any movement to supplant God with such farcical substitutes. One’s inner yearning cannot be gratified by fatuous confidence in human nature, religious mumbo-jumbo, or philosophical slight-of-hand. Man’s futility to escape God’s dominion is thwarted by the salutary reminder of the Psalmist, “Where shall I flee from your Spirit, or where shall I flee from you presence?”
More destructively is when one worships at the altar of self-aggrandizement. Leaving Jesus Christ out of the equation is a sure prescription for delusion, disappointment and a life unfulfilled. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at odds with the “gospel” of health, wealth, and prosperity advanced by slick huckster preachers, more intent on embellishing their reputation and bank account, than extolling Christ. This occurs not in some remote pagan temple, but right here in America where glitz, glamor, style and soaring rhetoric reign; a hollow elusive substitute, designed to ensnare one with longing unfulfilled. Mankind has grown increasingly adept at crafting gods out of nearly everything. Unregenerate Man’s corruptive agent that is part of the equation which always spells existential doom.
C.S. Lewis, in his inimitable style, in “The Weight of Glory,” cautions that even beauty may masquerade as idolatry, “The books of music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things-the beauty, the memory of our own past-are good images of what we really desire; but they are mistaken for the things that turn into-dumb idols, breaking hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we never visited.”
Loyalty to Jesus and one’s nation aren’t mutually exclusive. A stern caution-we’re image bearers of Christ-not Lee Greenwood or Uncle Sam. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and HIs word. In a short 230 years, many contend, as a nation, we’ve drifted from Christian to post-Christian, to pagan, to idolatrous. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org