Melted Gold, Bovine Statues, and Dopes

I would like to tell you a story. In the distant past, there was a man who was raised to be a leader. He was groomed to take on a powerful role in the most powerful nation on earth. However, he never fulfilled those plans because he murdered a man he saw beating a slave. Once he did this, he knew he must flee to avoid certain death himself, so he fled into the wilderness. Some years passed and in that time, he was called back to his homeland by God. He returned and he spoke God’s calling for abolition to those in power and performed miraculous signs, and that resulted in freedom for thousands of slaves. He led these slaves out of oppression, into freedom, and toward a future promised by God. Everyone was obviously filled with overwhelming joy! He led them into the wilderness and asked them to wait while he went to meet with God on a mountain. While he was gone, his brother led a rebellion. He led the people in the worship of a new god. One made of gold the people had given to the brother. God desired to destroy the people but their leader intervened. God agreed to stay his hand and when the leader returned to the people, he destroyed this new god and called the people back to the one, true God. You can, of course, find this story in Exodus. The final chapter, the one that tells the story of the new god, is in Exodus 32. It is the story of Israel and the Golden Calf. Moses goes to meet with God to receive the law and Aaron (his brother) tells Israel to give him their gold and melts it down into a calf. God is obviously angry and allows Moses to intervene and lead Israel to repentance. This is a story about idols. It is about a nation of people who betrayed their God and chose to worship one that they made themselves. Often when I read this story, it seems incredible to me that they would do such an obviously idiotic thing. They saw the plagues, they saw God part the Red Sea, and they saw God crush Egypt’s army. They turned away from THAT God and worship a golden calf they watched Aaron make. What dopes.

That is always my initial reaction to stories about idols. I look at the person worshiping their idols and think, “Look at that dope. Who would abandon the God of the universe for THAT?” And then I turn back to my own idols without a second thought. The story of the golden calf is one that sometimes feels far from us. It is likely that most of us don’t know anyone who worships an actual object in that way or who offers blood sacrifice to one. But we all know someone who worships idols. We see them every time we look in the mirror. Our idols are just harder to see. I was thinking about that this week as I considered, once again, the vitriol and divisiveness that we are all seeing in our world. Here at Beacon, we have written and said much about this over the past weeks. We have talked about anxiety and fear, pointed out the racial tensions, the political tensions, and the conflict (sometimes violent) that has arisen around all of those things. And as I was thinking and reading, it struck me that idolatry plays a role in all of this. I am well aware that there are a host of legitimate concerns in our nation today ranging from economic challenges to racial division to violence to the pandemic related restrictions. However, how much of what we are seeing is idolatry? How much of this is replacing the one, true, holy God with something else? This can take a plethora of forms. Paul lists several in Colossians 3:5-6 including sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. Idolatry can also be a political party, a church leader, your children, or a ministry you lead. Idolatry is a sneaky and pernicious sin that grabs us all at some point in our lives. It destroys us when we pursue it and it destroys those around us as well. It sows seeds of division that grow into anger and other sins. It is such a significant sin that the first TWO of the Ten Commandments address it. Commandment 1 is that we shall have no other gods before God and the second is that we should make and worship no idols. The irony there is that as God was writing those commandments on Mount Sinai, the Israelites were breaking them. What dopes.

Idolatry is a problem. So, what do we do about it? There is one solution to idolatry. Repentance and the active pursuit of Jesus. The times that idols creep into my life are the times when I am not actively pursuing Jesus with my whole heart. When I am not spending time in his Word. When I am not spending time in prayer. When I am not spending time in fellowship with other believers. That is when idols become particularly attractive and when they sneak back in. Those answers can seem like trite, church answers. But the only way to ensure that we aren’t putting anything above Jesus, is to put Jesus above anything. So, spend time reading his Word and talking to him. Spend time reaching out to other believers. Spend time praying together and reading Scripture together. Listen for God’s still, small voice as he is calling us away from our idols and back to himself.
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Josh Cervone