By Craig Tally
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A weary rider, looking for a homestead to begin a new life, rode his horse up to a cabin on top of a ridge in the Ozarks.
Grandma was lazily rocking on the porch, enjoying the cool evening breeze and her pipe. Greetings exchanged, the rider asked about the whereabouts of any Presbyterians in the area.
After two or three renewing puffs of the pipe, she offered that he might look on the back side of that old barn yonder. That’s where her man hangs the varmint hides he collects, and if there are any Presbyterians in these woods, he’d find one nailed to that wall.
So much of the popular understanding of idolatry is about as helpful as grandma’s help in locating the Presbyterians.
It is generally believed that idolatry is wrong because of its connection to polytheism. However, the matter of having more than one god is the subject of the First Commandment, which clearly states that we are to have no other gods.
There must be a separate issue, which the Second Commandment addresses; an additional factor that makes idolatry forbidden.
When my two daughters were teenagers, they tried mightily to mold me into their idea of a good parent:
“Mary’s parents let her drive to school.”
“Jennifer’s mom lets her stay out until midnight.”
“Amy’s parents allow her to stay home by herself.”
“The twins’ parents let them wear make-up.”
“Pam can walk to the Fastrip by herself.”
“OK,” I would say. “Just answer this one question. There are some parents who do not allow their kids to watch television or go to the movies. Some parents do not allow their kids to talk on the phone. Do you want me to be like them?”
Of course they didn’t want me to be like those parents. What they were wanting was for me to be the kind of parent they thought they wanted. They were hoping to mold me into their image of a good parent.
This desire of children to mold us into their idea of a parent is normal, but it is not in their best interest. They think they want that, they really do. But what they fail to accept is that life does not work well when lived that way.
Life works best when a parent functions as a parent and a child functions as a child. I think we all know what would happen if children were privileged to make those decisions about what to eat, when to go to bed, when to begin dating and so forth.
Dare we use this analogy to help us understand the damaging results of idolatry? I believe so. After all, Jesus used the parent/child relationship when attempting to describe the caring nature of God.
If good parents know how to give what is good to their children, then how much more does God know how to give that which is good to us? (Luke 11:13)
If the analogy fits, as I think it does, then we have an understandable idea of what it is that makes idolatry damaging. Like children who want to mold parents into the kind of parent they want, we humans want to mold God into the kind of god we want, rather than allow God to be God.
We would do well to consider how we might go about fashioning idols in today’s world. What materials do we use? What does our modern day idolatry look like?
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.