Just a Block of Wood
If you have been joining us in person or online the last few weeks, you know we are currently digging into the letters to the churches found in Revelation 2-3. These churches are getting some things right, but there are also certain things they are told to repent of. One theme that we have already seen show up a few times is that of idolatry.
While recently reading Isaiah 44, this topic of idolatry hit in a new way. I encourage you to read the chapter before continuing.
In it, the foolishness of idolatry is discussed. At one point in the chapter, we are given a visual of a wood-carver who cuts down trees and uses the wood to build a fire for warmth and for cooking his food - that’s sensible, right? What he does with the leftover wood, though, is what is labeled foolish: he takes it and carves an idol out of it. In the NLT, verse 18 plainly says of this, “Such stupidity and ignorance!” We’d probably agree, right?
Now read what the Lord says in verse 19:
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
It can be easy in our culture to think, “Of course I wouldn’t carve something out of wood to worship!” (Or, if you're like me, “I wouldn’t do that for any reason because I’m clumsy and would hurt myself”). But when we put this in our context like Pastor Mark did recently in a sermon, we see that we too make idols out of everyday things around us: our children, spouses, jobs, sports teams, bank accounts, hobbies, etc. Idolatry is worship of anything or anyone but our Creator God, and idols are the things or people we make the object of that worship.
The realization of a struggle with idolatry is not always going to smack us in the face. Oftentimes the things we begin to worship instead of God are good things like in the list above. For our word-carving friend in Isaiah, it was good to use the wood he chopped down to eat and stay warm. The wood itself isn’t bad, just like spending time with your family isn’t bad. Working hard at your job isn’t bad. Watching a football game on a cool fall Saturday isn’t bad.
Continually worshipping God alone doesn’t mean we avoid these things; it doesn’t mean we need to literally spend 24/7 praying, reading scripture, and singing praise while ignoring, for example, our family. In fact, we are sent out into the world in order to spread God’s love and live life with people. And yeah, sometimes to just do things that we enjoy and that are restful like watching a movie or hiking.
We have to be aware, though, that if we’re not careful, the object of our worship can shift away from God and toward those things or people. This is part of the problem with thinking worship is confined to Sunday mornings or is just a thing we do at designated times: that mindset sure makes it easy for us to worship something or someone else the other 166 hours in the week, right? Remember: we are always worshipping something or someone. How do I know? Because it’s what we were created to do.
A lot of times we try to figure all of this out by striking some kind of magical balance in our lives, but as another pastor points out, “Reducing God to a commodity is idolatry. Balance can’t be the answer to idolatry. As long as we’re trying to balance God with anything, we’ve reduced the Creator of the universe to an object” (JR. Forasteros, “Empathy For The Devil: Finding Ourselves in the Villans of the Bible” pg 105). The truth is, we don’t have the option to ‘balance’ God with anything; our relationship with Him is the foundation on which everything else in our lives should be built. He is the only one worthy of having that #1 spot in our lives.
Glance back at verse 19 and ask yourself: what in my life do I need to look at and say, “It’s just a block of wood, why am I giving it such a place of importance in my life?” Or, “This is a good thing, but am I giving it too much control in my life?” We all face the temptation to worship created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25); to “bow down and worship a piece of wood.”
Finally, listen to this plea from God later in the chapter and meditate on it:
“I, the Lord, made you,
and I will not forget you.
Oh, return to me,
for I have paid the price to set you free.” (Isaiah 44: 21b, 22b)