Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thoughts from Isaiah

Over the last couple of months Martin and I have been making our way through the book of Isaiah in the Bible's Old Testament.  As we've read I've been struck by Isaiah's contemptuous dismissal of idols and of those who put their trust in them.  Idols are described, in essence, as 'gods' in which people put their trust, but which are actually so powerless that their worshippers look after them, rather than the other way around.

Isaiah is talking about literal idol statues: 'gods' that rely on people to make them, to carry them from place to place, to put them down carefully so they don't fall over etc.  Not many 21st century Pakeha worship such gods, yet we still put our trust in things that require us to tend them.  Money is a common one - requiring us to invest a lot of time and effort carefully making it grow so it can later protect us from hard times.  Houses can be this way, too, when they become more than shelter and morph into a repository of 'equity'.  Reading Isaiah this morning I realised I've allowed Martin's income protection insurance become such an idol.  There's an exclusion on the policy for a medical problem he's had in the past.  If by July 2013 he hasn't had the problem again, the exclusion comes off.  I realised that I've become anxious about that deadline: concerned that the problem musn't come back, even wondering if he should go to the doctor (and hence admit to it) if it does.  I realised today that I've been carefully managing the insurance so that I can put my trust in it, rather than just having insurance but putting my actual trust in God.

Our God is quite different from the idols.  He's not just more powerful, He's also more 'willful'.  Take this, for example, from Isaiah 45:

“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
    those who are nothing but potsherds
    among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
    ‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
    ‘The potter has no hands’?
10 Woe to the one who says to a father,
    ‘What have you begotten?’
or to a mother,
    ‘What have you brought to birth?’
We are the clay, God is the potter.  We can't question how he chooses to act - even if He chooses to act, as He is here, through an army who is raping and pillaging their way across the landscape. In a way, Isaiah presents us with a simple choice.  We can put our trust in idols, who might look like they do our bidding but who really don't do anything at all; or we can put our trust in God, who will do what He wants rather than what we want, but who is, at least, all-powerful.

It reminds me of this bit of Psalm 115:
Why do the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
    he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
    noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
    feet, but cannot walk,
    nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
    and so will all who trust in them.
You can put your trust in the God who does whatever He pleases, or you can be as blind, deaf and immobile as an idol statue - how's that for a choice!

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