For the past few days my high school seniors have been doing presentations on various religious movements, beliefs and customs seen in our world today.  Today, I sat through presentations on:

  • Wicca, a religion in which adherents worship the forces of nature
  • The Hindu veneration of cows and avoidance of meat consumption
  • The significance of the Taoist yin-yang which symbolizes our need to find a delicate balance between the dueling natural forces of life
  • Buddhism and its deification of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), a man who never claimed to be anything other than a man
  • The atrocity of human sacrifice, done to placate the forces of nature depicted as bloodthirsty deities

Humans seem willing to worship just about anything.  I do live in the city of Elvis after all, the original American Idol.  Now, those religious zealots take their pilgrimages seriously!   

It was no different in the ancient world, as today’s section points out.  Go back as far as Abraham.  In the Qur’an’s account of his ancestry, he was born to an idol worshiper named Azar.  Abraham tried out the nature-worship of his father, but worshiping stars, a moon, or even a sun that rises and sets seems inferior to the worship of a God whose glory never fades and who makes the constellations (6:74-79).  Dawn and night come at God’s command (6:96).  Stars are little more than guides by night from One who guides more surely than stars (6:97).  There is nothing in all of the natural order worthy to be compared with God, not water or sky or vegetation or even the great power of fertility, so necessary to desert-dwelling caravaners (6:99).

Whether it be the paganism of Azar or the Meccans or the Wiccans, whether the philosophical dualism of Taoism or the wisdom of the man who became the Buddha, why worship the created when you can worship the Creator?

All who make idols are nothing,
   and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
   they are ignorant, to their own shame. 
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
   which can profit nothing? 
People who do that will be put to shame;
   such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
   they will be brought down to terror and shame.

 The blacksmith takes a tool
   and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
   he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
   he drinks no water and grows faint. 
The carpenter measures with a line
   and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
   and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
   human form in all its glory,
   that it may dwell in a shrine. 
He cut down cedars,
   or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
   or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 
It is used as fuel for burning;
   some of it he takes and warms himself,
   he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
   he makes an idol and bows down to it. 
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
   over it he prepares his meal,
   he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
   “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
   he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
   “Save me! You are my god!” 
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
   their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
   and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 
No one stops to think,
   no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
   I even baked bread over its coals,
   I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
   Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
   he cannot save himself, or say,
   “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

“This is what the LORD says—
   your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: 

I am the LORD,
   the Maker of all things,
   who stretches out the heavens,
   who spreads out the earth by myself, 
who foils the signs of false prophets
   and makes fools of diviners,
who overthrows the learning of the wise
   and turns it into nonsense, 
who carries out the words of his servants
   and fulfills the predictions of his messengers. (Isaiah 44:9-20; 24-26a)