Sirius in the night sky

Why would you worship the stars — like Sirius, that the Meccans were worshiping (53:49) — when you can worship the maker of the stars?  Stars set (53:1), but God will remain forever.  Bow down before God and worship (53:62).  That is the message in today’s short surah, appropriately titled “The Star.”

It seems so silly today that people would worship a star or the moon or a river or some form of animal or what have you.  Really?  It seems so clear that there is a better option.  Why not worship the One who created each of these? 

But how easy it is to fall into this trap.  We “worship” — as in assign power and reverence — to celebrities, to lovers, to popular and powerful people.  We even “worship” — as in long to have or be united with — power, pleasure, beauty, wealth, comfort, and myriad other things.  We “worship” — as in rearrange our life around in order to serve — self-promotion, success, family, and work.  In our moments of honest self-awareness surely we can see how silly this is as well.   

Bow down before God and worship!

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In this new short, Meccan surah, “Bowing Down in Worship” or “Prostration,” we read many of the same ideas we have already had: the Qur’an comes from God, not from the imagination of Muhammad; God testifies to himself through creation; the Hereafter is real and coming, so be prepared; God has given disbelievers a chance, so they should only be expecting punishment now; good people are rewarded and rebellious people are punished.

I really like the description of a believer that comes halfway through the surah:

The only people who truly believe in Our messages are those who, when they are reminded of them, bow down in worship, celebrate their Lord’s praises, and do not think themselves above this.  Their sides shun their beds in order to pray to their Lord in fear and hope; they give to others some of what We have given them.  No soul knows what joy is kept hidden in store for them as a reward for what they have done. . . . Those who believe and do good deeds will have Gardens awaiting them as their home and as a reward for what they have done. (32:15-17, 19)

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)