Devotional Passage: Isaiah 41: 21-29
41:21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be dismayed and terrified.
24 Behold, you are nothing,
and your work is less than nothing;
an abomination is he who chooses you.
25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind
Soul Search Essay
(While the focus of this thread of posts is on the older Christian in the business environment (i.e. An “older Christian” is someone who has been a Christian at least 4-5 years or more), we need to begin in the larger Christian sub-culture. This essay deals with what we depend on in a broader scope than just the business environment. So, let us begin with the giant of the Old Testament – Isaiah.)
If you have never been exposed to God’s (YHWH’s – YHWH means “I AM” in ancient Hebrew; in Hebrew words were strings of consonants with vowel pointing, so YHWH is the short version of the name God gave to Abraham; it is also written as Yahweh) sarcasm in preaching or teaching, the fact it exists may be surprising. Scripture documents an incredible range of God’s emotion and some of it is uncomfortable to witness. We often focus as an American Christian sub-culture on the “good” or “positive” emotions and avoid the harsher emotions in Scripture. (This is true across many denominations even though it is subtle in some.) In doing this, we miss the encouragement of emotions such as sarcasm. Encouragement?
How in the world can sarcasm be uplifting and encouraging? Is it a model to be used in our interactions with others? Jesus is extolled in the next section of Isaiah as not “extinguishing a burning wick.” Sarcasm is an emotion that extinguishes many, many things. So, it seems that sarcasm is not being offered as a tool for our use. So, why is sarcasm used here in Isaiah?
It is offered as YHWH’s strong, legitimate emotional response to the total absurdity of idols. Why are idols absurd? Idols have no actual power. Fundamentally, this is God’s point. Idols are human made from natural materials and have no ability to impact the natural world or spiritual world. If an idol cannot move, cannot act, has no supernatural power, then it is merely an object. Yet, in Israel’s population, this reality was strongly, strongly disbelieved. In fact, idols formed a core element of the foundation of emotional safety for Israelites. How can a powerless, inert object provide emotional safety? Delusion.
An idol’s power to give assumed safety lies in the perceived control it provides. Idols were and are created as a result of human will. A human wanted an idol. He gave value in cash or barter for the idol’s creation. If the person is wealthy, the idol could be enhanced by using a better material than wood such as stone or perhaps a person paid for overlaying wood with silver or gold. So, human creation and natural materials gave power to the idol via investment of a little or a great amount of financial value, but that was not the major source of an idol’s emotional power. The idol’s greatest power came from it being a culturally defined mechanism to manipulate a needy god.
The gods of Canaanite culture, Assyrian culture, Babylonion culture, in fact all of Mesopotamia god’s were not supreme beings. They were petty super beings. These cultures (as well as the Greek, Roman, etc. cultures’ gods) were understood as a conflicted group of powerful beings that needed food, drink, shelter and rest. They fought, whined, plotted and schemed. Most of all, these gods had needs. Those needs made the gods susceptible to human power. A human, such as a priest or worshiper, could provide for a god’s need and hopefully receive a positive answer to a request. Alternately the human could seek to build a reservoir of good will by faithful gifting to the god’s needs or perhaps building a resting place for the god (a temple). It was believed that a reservoir of such goodwill gave a human the power to influence one or more super beings. The assumption was that this influence might bring safety. Did it?
For an idol to be effective for your use, the following must be true – the god must exist, the god must have needs, the idol must be an effective mechanism to meet a god’s needs, then you must attend to those needs in an effective way, the god must accept your attending, then when you have a need god must decide to act in alignment with your influence (vs another human’s influence or even another god’s actions), and finally the god must have actual power to accomplish the change or action in the natural world. Wow! What an impossible chain of events! Even if most of the chain were true, you always, always risked being out influenced or left to rot due to some multi-God squabble.
Israelite and Canaanite idols seem preposterous as an effective safety mechanism to modern thinking. If we really think this through, we completely get YHWH’s sarcasm! How could anyone believe this chain of events causes safety? How backward and unsophisticated these people are!
It is not like someone believing that safety comes from success, that success comes from acceptance in the right social circles, that social acceptance comes from going to the right schools, that doing the right work in the right job at the right time leads to promotion and that promotion brings wealth, status and success. After all, wealth, status and success make us safe, right? No! That is equally preposterous!
Success, status, and wealth are simply idols. They are built by humans and rely on influence based in the needs of other, more powerful humans. The fact that our idols are derived from human social and business structures does not make them more than idols. There is no safety in these objects. No emotional safety. No actual safety.
How does YHWH’s sarcasm bring encouragement? Sarcasm from a loving, real God can surprise us. It is unexpected. Perhaps it even shocks us into considering the source of our emotional safety. It is in this act of considering that the truth of our foolishness can become apparent and in that apparentness we can choose. Choosing matters. Sarcasm can create the chance to choose. In those moments, long after our salvation decision, we can choose to abandon idols for the true power of Jesus Christ. The power available since our rebirth.
Idols are box canyons. The only way out is to turn and leave. Yet…yet.. the very falseness of idols keep us climbing the crumbling wall of success, chopping in the forest of status, hammering the gold of wealth; seeking safety in things, rather than in one specific person. These walls, forrests, and hammers are not safe in themselves. They can cause harm directly. There is no real safety created by them either. None. Only YHWH provides safety. That safety is born of God’s character expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. Success will not teach you God’s character. Status cuts you off from YHWH, leaving you alone in a forrest of stumps cut by others forming idols. Hammering creates noise through which a soft, calm, quiet voice does not penetrate. There is no safety here.
Abandon your idols. Embrace the Jesus you accepted long ago.
In case you were wondering, here is Why I Write.