In the 7th and 8th century BC, God used the invading Assyrians and then Babylonians to kill Israel’s idols – especially her idol of nationalistic pride.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read their Bible that we still struggle with idols today, for our hearts, says Calvin, are a virtue idol making factory. Modern idols aren’t made of wood and stone, but we worship at their altar nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods contends that idols, ancient or modern, call us to love, trust, and obey them.
Today, God is using covid-19 to kill off a few of the American church’s idols.
The Idol of Safety. I think safety, and it’s kissing cousin health, have become the Baal’s of modern America. What food is safe today? What cleaner will give me cancer in 40 yrs? How big a risk is pumping gas? I will acknowledge I do not think about safety (or health) nearly enough. Before I went to the doctor last year, it had been six years between doctors visits. I wear my seat belt because it’s the law. My kids have never worn a bike helmet (we don’t even own one). Today, our obsession with safety is being revealed because risk is more pronounced.
Prior to covid-19, we had duped ourselves into thinking we were safe. We weren’t.
Last year 2.8 million people died in the US. That is a lot of people. For some, death came unsurprisingly. Many though were completely taken by surprise. But, we didn’t see these numbers on the TV screen and check them at state dashboards every day wondering ‘how many people died yesterday’. So far this year we are at 108% of normal expected deaths (“excess deaths”). So yes, more people are dying. But the amount of attention and fear is out of proportion among us Christians. It’s exposing our idolatry, and that’s good.
My point is not that there is no risk. There is.
Nor am I saying we shouldn’t take precautions. We should. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.
My point is that the situation hasn’t changed that much. We never were safe. We have always been at risk – car accidents, natural disasters, crime, cancer, the flu, pet deer (it happened, 17 April 2019). Death is all around us and can come for us at any moment – that’s why a wise man once wrote, “Resolved: to think about my death and dying often.” We should take reasonable precautions, yes. AND, we should trust God, triple yes!
Our attempts to manufacture safety and security are shams. And our idol of safety has enslaved, which is what idols always do. Our days are in God’s hands.
Idol of control. How many of us are planners? Not me by nature, but by vocation I have to be. But how do I plan when nothing is certain? Will school happen? If not, what about church ministries? Plan now, but it’ll change in 3-5 days. What will governors, mayors, school boards decide? I don’t know, and it’s out of my control.
I don’t like that.
I like driving, not riding.
I like control, or at least the illusion of control. But illusion is all it is. The Bible teaches us not to boast about tomorrow.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.”James 4:13-16
We used to say ‘Lord willing and the creek don’t rise’ (I just learned last week that it should be Creek – a reference to the Creek tribe, not a crick). Maybe we need to introduce a new phrase that reminds us our plans our provisional at best – ‘Lord willing the ‘rona don’t spike’.
All of this is a struggle for control freaks (I’m a closet one – I hide it well). It’s a struggle because an idol is being stripped – our control. We exercise control in so many ways – over the heat with our AC, over the cold with our Heat, over the rhythms of day and night with electric lights…But it’s feigned. We don’t stop the sun setting. We don’t keep the weather from changing. Our sphere’s of sovereignty are pathetically small and frail, and it’s being exposed.
We aren’t in control.
Cool, cause I shouldn’t be in control. Not of you. Not of a nation. Not even of myself. That is a burden to heavy for my human shoulders to bear. God is in control. His purposes will not be thwarted, though mine are frustrated every day.
Once our idols are destroyed, we return to the true God as Israel did. We confess. We accept his forgiveness. And we love, trust, and obey the one true God.