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And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”
And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. (Exodus 14:13-20)
What are you so worried about? When God asked Moses “why do you cry to me?” God is not wondering why Moses is asking for help. Instead, he’s asking, in essence, “why are you yelling at me?” God questioned where the panic was coming from, much as Jesus thought it odd that the disciples were so afraid of the storm as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. Moses had just spent months if not years standing before Pharaoh, the ruler of the most powerful nation on Earth, and he’d seen God destroy the country with a series of ten plagues. And now he was going to let a little thing like a deep sea in the way make him think that now they were doomed? God’s wondering, “What? Did I go somewhere? You think I brought you this far just to let you fail? Get your hopes up and then dash them? Do you think that’s what I’m all about?” But of course that’s exactly what Moses and the Israelites were thinking: they were human beings after all. Human beings all too commonly fear that God is going to let them down.
We secretly believe that for us will be unpleasant and probably involve being hungry and barefoot in a bug infested jungle where we’ll die a miserable death. God’s response to Moses and the Israelites was not much more than an eye roll, followed by reassurance that he had the problem well under control. God is neither capricious nor cruel. He loves us. He wants us to believe that so we’ll stop worrying and just enjoy today.
God spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites that they are to set aside offerings for me. Receive the offerings from everyone who is willing to give. These are the offerings I want you to receive from them: gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet material; fine linen; goats’ hair; tanned rams’ skins; dolphin skins; acacia wood; lamp oil; spices for anointing oils and for fragrant incense; onyx stones and other stones for setting in the Ephod and the Breastpiece. Let them construct a Sanctuary for me so that I can live among them. You are to construct it following the plans I’ve given you, the design for The Dwelling and the design for all its furnishings.
First let them make a Chest using acacia wood: make it three and three-quarters feet long and two and one-quarter feet wide and deep. Cover it with a veneer of pure gold inside and out and make a molding of gold all around it. Cast four gold rings and attach them to its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Make poles from acacia wood and cover them with a veneer of gold and insert them into the rings on the sides of the Chest for carrying the Chest. The poles are to stay in the rings; they must not be removed. (Exodus 25:1-15)
God cares about the details just as much as he cares about the big picture. God told Moses to rescue the people of Israel from Egypt. He told him what to say regarding the plagues. He would give him the Ten Commandments. But God also paid attention to the decorations in the Tabernacle, explaining the sorts of cloth to be used, details about the furniture, even the sorts of spices for the anointing oils. He explained how the ark was to be built in detail, and how it was supposed to be carried. God had very specific plans for how the Israelites were going to formally worship him.
There is nothing too small for God. Nothing about an individual is insignificant. If God concerned himself about the number of gold rings to attach to the ark of the covenant, if he bothered with the kind of wood to build it out of when that wood was going to be covered over with a layer of gold—and if the finished box would wind up behind curtains that only one man once a year would even see—no matter how much you may think both you and your concerns are insignificant—God finds them of great importance, perhaps more important than even you think. You are worth more to God than spice choices and furniture design.
Come Saturday it’s time again for me to mow my grass. I’ll pick up the two lithium-ion battery packs from their shelf and slot them into my mower, then I’ll push the mower to my side yard. I’ll insert the keyfob, push the button, and pull back on the lever. The machine will come to life with a loud whir. I’ll proceed to push it back and forth across my front lawn until the grass is uniformly shorter than it was before I started. In the back yard I’ll repeat the pushing until it is all done. The next step will be for me to take the electric edger and trim around the sidewalk and bushes so that everything is neat and tidy.
I have control of how my lawn looks: I have a sprinkler system that daily squirts water onto it so that it stays green despite the fact that I live in a desert. And I use tools running on electricity to keep the green from going wild. My savannah is tamed.
For many of us, we treat God like I treat my lawn, and imagine we can keep him trim and tidy and tamed. Like our lawns, we want neat and pleasant lives. Isn’t that mostly why so many of us put money in the offering plate, attend church weekly, and offer prayers that always end with the magic words “in Jesus Name, Amen”?
I’ve heard that there are tribes that dance and bang drums in order to scare away the monster that attempts to consume the sun during an eclipse. The ancient Canaanites sacrificed to their gods in order to make the rain come in spring and bountiful harvests in the autumn.
When we get what we want, then we are convinced we did the right thing that got God to give us what we wanted and like a lucky shirt, we’ll try it again the next time we have a need. And when our prayers seem to fail, then we assume that there was something wrong with us: maybe we didn’t wear the shirt quite right—or maybe we shouldn’t have washed it.
If that’s the case, then we don’t have a relationship with God. We have a superstition. When bad things come into our lives, we double down on our superstition. We convince ourselves that we didn’t have enough faith, that we didn’t go to church enough, that maybe folding money would be better than jingling money. Or maybe we’re being punished because we snuck an extra helping of chocolate cake, or because we thought too long and hard about Brad Pitt’s abs, or Jennifer Aniston’s legs, or because we used bad language when that moron insisted on driving 35 in a 50 mile an hour zone.
God is not moved if we let black cats cross our path. He doesn’t abandon us if we don’t walk under ladders. He doesn’t turn our children into drug addicts if we don’t break mirrors. Tossing some salt over our shoulder will not keep our loved ones from dying in a car accident. A lucky shirt is not going to get us out of cancer treatment.
God doesn’t grant prizes because you perform the right rituals in the right way, he doesn’t give you a cookie when you drop a buck in the plate. He doesn’t tell you what a good girl or boy you are when you avoid screwing your neighbor. Neither is he going to curse you because you forgot to read your Bible today, or got too busy, or wanted to watch the Dodgers instead. The blessings of heaven are not being held back until you discover some secret. Jesus already died for your sins. They don’t count against you anymore. In Christ, we are already righteous. In Christ, we have everlasting life. In Christ, we have eternity in our hearts.
What we forget, thanks to our superstitions, is a simple truth. We have someone who loves us more than words can say. You can’t make him love you any more, or any less. His love is stuck on maximum.
“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” —St. Augustine
Is this how you think? “Something bad happened to me. Therefore, God must be punishing me because I sinned.”
Now, a caveat. If you couldn’t make your car payment this month because you gambled your money away playing poker, then, yeah: you’re suffering. But not so much because you were gambling—the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about gambling. No, your car’s getting repossessed because you’re a moron and did a stupid, stupid thing.
So we’ll put aside the obvious stupid choices that people make: my husband is divorcing me because I slept with his bowling team sort of thing.
Nevertheless, it is still easy to imagine that if you’re having hard times in life that you must have done something wrong. Doesn’t God hate sin? Doesn’t God punish sinners? Isn’t chastisement a part of life? Didn’t my dad give me swats when I disobeyed him, or failed to take out the trash, or talked back to him?
Job’s friends, notoriously, believed that and spend the bulk of the book of Job berating him and demanding that he confess his horrible sins—before they started in just throwing mud at him with the list of sins that he just had to be guilty of given how his life had gone to hell in a handbasket: his protestations of innocence, for them, were simply further proof of his wretchedness.
Thus, when we see someone suffer, our first thought is: I wonder what he did to piss off God. And if that someone is us, that is often our first thought. Surely, the reason I got that flat tire is because I thought bad things about that stupid driver who cut me off last week. It had nothing to do with the fact that the tire has a hundred thousand miles on it.
And the man waterpipe leading into my house sprang a leak because I had inappropriate thoughts about that pretty cashier at Wendy’s yesterday. And my child is failing chemistry because I have a bad temper.
And I can’t find work because I keep saying the f word when I get mad.
What do all of these things have in common? Besides the fact that your mind is inhabited by Job’s friends? Show of hands: how many of you have taken a course in Logic?
There is this thing called a logical fallacy: that is, very simply, an argument that uses poor—or no—reasoning. One will hear a lot of them during election campaigns. My worthy opponent is ugly and his mother dresses him funny; that’s why his proposal to lower taxes is an example of evil incarnate.
The fancy name for this flawed example is “argumentum ad hominem”: that is, attack on the man. Instead of attacking the proposal with an examination of its flaws, one instead simply attacks the individual.
Another favorite during political campaigns is to attribute beliefs to one’s opponent and then to attack those beliefs that you’ve attributed to your opponent. My opponent wants to lower taxes because he wants the rich to get richer and he hates the poor and wants to seem them suffer and squirm in agony. Also, he hates you. That sort of thing. This is referred to as a “strawman argument.”
In any case, believing that your car broke down because you ate too much chocolate cake and so God is punishing you is an example of a logical fallacy. The technical term for it is Post hoc ergo propter hoc Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “false cause: it is a coincidental correlation, a correlation without causation: – X happened then Y happened; therefore X caused Y. God hates sin. My car broke down. it’s obviously because I ate too much chocolate cake. Mixed in with this will sometimes be the comment: how do you know this bad thing didn’t happen to me because I did xyz wrong: I’m a horrible sinner. You just don’t know. That’s another logical fallacy: argument from ignorance: you can’t refute me, so I must be right. (No, it’s just because you’re such an idiot that I’m gobsmacked—that, and it would take me more time that I wish to spend to refute you. Some of the more whacked out conspiracy theories and crackpot ideas fall into this category: it would take a book to refute it and most experts don’t have the time or think it’s worth the effort to show you why your belief that the moon landings never happened is akin to believing you’re a banana. Or that wearing garlic obviously keeps away vampires since you’ve never been bitten.
So, beyond the fact that it is illogical—a logical fallacy—to believe that your suffering is the result of you having been a sinner, your irrational belief can be refuted with the raw data of the scripture.
Look at anyone you care to in the Bible who was doing exactly what God wanted them to do. How many of them went from success to success and never had bad things happening to them?
Right. Let’s look at one of them. Moses.
When all you have is your faith in God, that’s a hard place to be. But it’s okay. God is there, whether you can feel him or see him or recognize his hand at work in your life. He’s there even when you think he couldn’t possibly be. He’s there even when you’re certain that it’s hopeless and nothing can ever be okay ever again.
Many of the biblical characters faced that moment of despair, even as they were doing precisely what they knew God wanted them to be doing. Had you supposed that that knowing God’s will and doing it is the inoculation against feeling discouraged and unhappy? Don’t be silly.
Moses met God in a burning bush and reluctantly obeyed his command to go back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites from hundreds of years of slavery. Few people have ever known so clearly what God’s will for their lives was.
And yet it was hard for him to feel happy. He was at least eighty years of age. His wife did not support him. Moses believed himself to be a poor public speaker and had attempted to use that as an excuse to get out of having to go to Egypt—a place he’d left forty years earlier as a fugitive after murdering someone.
When he arrived in Egypt, he had an audience with the Pharaoh. He performed the miraculous “signs” that God had given him. He threw his staff on the ground so that it became a snake. He put his hand in his tunic and pulled it out covered with leprosy, then made the leprosy go away.
The Pharaoh was unimpressed and chased Moses away. He refused to set the Israelites free and accused them of laziness. Worse, he gave them more work to do, making their already miserable lives as slaves even more unbearable.
Moses did what God asked him to do. Nothing worked. In fact, life got worse. The Pharaoh was mad at him, and so were the people he had ostensibly come to set free. Certainly not an auspicious beginning to his mission.
He complained to God about what had happened. Did God zap him with a bolt of lightning for his lack of faith? Nope. God comforted him and told him to keep at it, that in the end, it would all work out.
So Moses asked again. And again. And again. The Pharaoh repeatedly denied the request. Months, perhaps a year or more passed with zero progress. Terrible plagues befell the Egyptians. Finally, after the tenth try, the Pharaoh let the people go. So now all was well, right?
As soon as the Israelites left, the Pharaoh changed his mind and sent an army to bring them back. They fled—only to find their way blocked by the Red Sea with no way out—until God opened the sea and destroyed the Pharaoh’s army.
Then there was a shortage of food, a shortage of water. When there was food, the people complained about the lack of variety. There were challenges to Moses’ leadership; the people resorted to idolatry. There were plagues, and then when they got to the Promised Land the people refused to go into it—so God sent them to wandering in the wilderness for forty years until everyone of that generation died from old age.
Nothing went the way Moses had expected or hoped. Both he and the Israelites spent a lot of time getting familiar with despair.
And Moses was not the only biblical figure who spent a lot of time in the dark place. The Prophet Habakkuk expressed the same unhappiness. After hoping that God would do something to fix the nation of Israel’s penchant for idolatry, God explained that his “solution” was to have Babylonians invade and devastate the land. Habakkuk responded with stress and unhappiness, unsatisfied by God’s promise that the Babylonians would subsequently be judged.
Habakkuk concludes his prophecy with a poem for when nothing is going right, everything is going wrong, and nothing about your circumstances makes sense:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
And finally: when the prophet Daniel’s friends faced death in a fiery furnace they told Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, the following:
“…the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
Trusting in God, remaining faithful to God and his calling, is not dependent upon His action or inaction. If it is, then we cannot claim honestly to love Him, because love, real love, is not dependent upon the actions of the beloved.
Of course, this is easier said, than done.
Nice people will say things like, “why can’t we just all get along” or “why can’t we just live in peace?” As if the sentiment alone will fix the problem, as if people would “just wake up” and “give peace a chance.”
Unfortunately, there are monsters out there. A serial killer is not interested in your pleasant sentiments. The members of the drug cartels in Mexico and other places south who kill people with regularity, cut off heads, and do other horrific crimes are not going to be swayed by us holding hands and learning to sing in “perfect harmony.” Hashtags #givepeaceachance or #endviolence repeated on Twitter, pretty memes reposted and “liked” on Facebook will not change the behavior of the evil. Putting a flower in the barrel of a thug’s gun will not slow down his bullets in the slightest.
When it comes to the situation in the Middle East, there are fundamental things to understand about the conflict, the first being that the Israelis are not the ones standing in the way of peace. The Israelis are not the problem. Blaming Israel is like blaming a rape victim.
So who is to blame? Bottom line: Israel’s enemies: those who shoot rockets indescrimately into Israel, those who kidnap children and murder them, those who walk into markets and detonate bombs, those who board busses and machinegun the passengers, those who compare Jews to pigs and apes, those who believe that Jews kill gentile children so they can drain their blood and use it as an ingredient in Passover matzas. Those who teach their children to hate Jews, whose textbooks and teachers teach the children that Jews are an infection on the world that needs to be eradicated, parroting the same language the Nazis used in the 1930s. Those who publish newspapers, print books, broadcast on radio and television the daily instruction, the calls for the destruction of Israel from its politicians and religious leaders, who cry for jihad and the murder of Jews. Few who blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East care to think about inconvenient little details like Mein Kampf remaining a perennial best seller in the Palestinian territories, together with the infamous forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is accepted as true by most Palestinians. Or when the wide-spread anti-Semitism is mentioned, it is explained away using language remarkably similar to someone trying to blame the rape victim because of how she was dressed: they brought it on themselves.
It is not only Jews who suffer. Our feckless journalists and pundits ignore the decline in the number of Christians in the Palestinian territories. Since the PLO took over, the percentage of Christians in Bethlehem, as an example, has gone from 90 per cent of the population down to 15 per cent, with the numbers continuing to drop. When I was in Bethlehem back in the summers of 1976 and 1977, ten years into the Israeli occupation, it was a thriving tourist mecca. Today, it is a ghost town. What changed? The Palestinian National Authority took over in 1994.
Many seem to forget how the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and Golan Heights happened to come into Israel’s possession in the first place. Hint: several nations attacked Israel in 1967 but lost the war with them. Oddly, although the Arab states had controlled those regions from 1948 to 1967, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), formed in 1964 never attacked Jordan, Egypt or Syria. They only threatened Israel. No Arab state ever suggested, between 1948 and 1967, that Jordan, Egypt or Syria establish a Palestinian state, despite the fact that the original UN mandate that had created Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 had also created a Palestinian Arab state that Jordan, Egypt and Syria merely annexed for themselves in 1948.
Hamas’ attitude toward Israel and their thoughts about finding a peaceful solution to their problems are discussed in Article 13 of its charter, published in 1988 and easily available in translation in several places online:
Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement….
Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question….
…the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?….
There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with….
Obviously, such sentiments as Hamas expresses would seem to make the achievement of peace difficult.
The Israeli prime minister from 1969-1974, Golda Meir, wrote “When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.” (Press conference in London (1969), as quoted in A Land of Our Own : An Oral Autobiography (1973) edited by Marie Syrkin, p. 242)
After listening to the news for the last several years, and watching criticism or even condemnation of the Israelis in their ongoing conflict with the Palestinians by the UN, by politicians, by intellectuals, by columnists, by entertainers, and by religious leaders in Europe, the United States, and around the world, I decided to write an allegory. Sometimes telling a story in analogous terms can help clarify what’s going on for those who might otherwise fail to recognize what should be obvious. It lets them see past the clouded and loaded terms, the obscuring fog of the yelling participants. And so two years ago I posted this allegory on my blog. Now seems like a good time to rerun it.
My allegory about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the story of a black family that moves into an all white neighborhood after being chased out of the South by the KKK. They pay too much for a broken down fixer upper and then they work hard, plant grass, fix the broken windows and make it a nice place despite the constant griping and complaining and put downs of the neighbors. The black family refuses to leave, despite the nearly nightly cross burnings on their front yard, the periodic Molotov cocktails tossed through their front door, the robberies, and the shootings. Meanwhile, they face criticism at every turn from the local newspaper for reacting to the attacks against them. When they install a security system, they are condemned for their intransigence. When they arm themselves, they are “escalating the conflict.” When they shoot the rapist climbing in the daughter’s bedroom window, they are slapped with a wrongful death suit.
Their neighbors make a habit of comparing them to the KKK at every opportunity. Moreover, the police do nothing but issue warrants against the black family and cite them for building code violations. The city council decrees the neighbors should be able to build a barbecue and tennis court in their backyard, and that it is unreasonable for the black family to forbid their neighbors from having parties in their living room on Saturday nights. The rapist’s brother has filed a class action lawsuit demanding his right to sleep in the daughter’s bedroom. The neighbors erect a monument in honor of the dead rapist and offer rewards to anyone who shoots a member of the black family. Meanwhile, the local paper editorializes about how “hostile and inhospitable the black family is.” It suggests that they “need to reach out to their neighbors and find a way to get along.” Others argue that it was wrong of the black family to ever move into the neighborhood in the first place and that really, they should just go back to the South where they belong.
Another allegory might work if that one is unclear: in marriage counseling, both parties need to be interested in reconciliation if there is going to be much hope for saving the marriage. If the husband, for instance, wants to reconcile, but the wife wants the husband to drop dead, there’s little room for compromise. When the voices in her head tell her he’s an alien and she is mad because he keeps ducking every time she fires her shotgun at his head, how exactly is it his fault that the marriage isn’t a happy one? One can always point out that there are two sides to every conflict, but sometimes, one of those sides is simply nuts.
If you believe my criticism of the Palestinians is too harsh, you might try paying attention to what the Palestinians themselves are saying and doing. And you don’t even need to learn Arabic. Just visit Memri.org, which translates most of the Palestinian (and other Middle East) media sources: newspapers, television, sermons and the like.
The Jewish people want peace more than anything. The Palestinians want the Jews to die more than anything. That makes it tricky to find a compromise. The sad reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that right now only one side wants peace. Maybe someday, if the Palestinians get tired of their situation, peace can happen. It did happen between Israel and Egypt, when the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat finally woke up and decided he was tired of being the Moslem world’s canon fodder and made peace with Israel. Israel was willing to give back all the formerly Egyptian land that they had won in the Six Day War, including the only functioning oil wells that Israel owned. It seemed like a good deal for the Israelis, but it is starting to look ever more likely that the peace, though it lasted for decades, is only temporary after all. Unfortunately, the new “democratically elected” Egyptian government seems bent on taking up their old job of canon fodder. The Muslim Brotherhood that runs things there now believes that the Jews are all “pigs and apes” and that killing all of them is the right thing to do. Their goal seems to be to abrogate the peace treaty.
The Israelis and the Jordanians have also managed to sign a genuine peace accord. Perhaps it will last as long as the one between the Israelis and the Egyptians. So peace between antagonists in the Middle East is possible, since it has happened twice already. So maybe, just maybe, peace might happen someday between Israel and the Palestinians.
But probably not until the Palestinians accept the idea that it’s okay for the Israelis to live. When the Palestinians stop teaching hatred against Jews in their schools, when their textbooks are no longer filled with anti-Semitism, when they cease proclaiming vile anti-Semitism in their daily newspapers and television, when they stop preaching hatred in their mosques, when they stop reading and believing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, when Mein Kampf is no longer a best seller in the Palestinian controlled territories, and when they condemn suicide bombing against the Jews, then peace can happen. Until then, it is rather unlikely.
One last thing: a bit of historical context. Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza from 1948 until 1967. In that entire time, the Palestinians never sent suicide bombers against the Jordanians. The world never condemned Egypt as an occupier of the Gaza or demanded a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But there was never a shortage of violence and condemnation against the Israelis. Nobody cared that the Syrians shelled the kibbutzim around the Sea of Galilee on a nightly basis for nearly twenty years. So if Israel gave back all the land, gave the Palestinians their own government, then there would be peace, right? It’s all the fault of Israel, they are so awful, or so the pundits insist.
But then why wasn’t there any peace between 1948 and 1967? Why was the PLO formed in 1964, before the Israelis beat their enemies and took their land in 1967?
But maybe it actually is the case that all the problems in the neighborhood are because of the nasty character of the family that moved into that rundown house.
Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:
Do not learn the way of the nations,
or be dismayed at the signs of the heavens;
for the nations are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the peoples are false:
a tree from the forest is cut down,
and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan;
people deck it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:1-)
For most people in the modern world, idols are merely works of art. We are never tempted to worship them. Some art historians are dismayed that as Christians became dominant in the old Roman Empire, they destroyed the pagan temples and wrecked the images of the gods. While two thousand years later, it is easy to think only in terms of the destruction of art, for those who had turned from paganism to Christianity, idols held a power. They symbolized something evil and wrong. They oppressed the hearts and minds of countless human beings, blinding them to the truth. People had devoted themselves, their money, even their lives to things that were useless. They were a lie and a delusion.
Following the destruction of a totalitarian regime, whether the end of Nazi Germany, the fall of Communism, or the end of Saddam’s Iraq, the people freed from tyranny quickly destroyed the statues and images of the hated regime: statues of Stalin and Lenin were knocked down and dragged away; swastikas atop buildings in Berlin were dynamited. Saddam’s statue in the center of Baghdad was toppled by tanks. Two thousand years from now, some might be appalled at the destruction of art and culture, but for those doing the destruction, they were striking blows for freedom. For those who worshiped idols, the idols were not art. They were tyrants who had blinded their worshipers. Whatever oppresses you today, God has set you free from it through Christ. Your idols are nothing but objects made by men.