The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
– Isaiah 44:12-20 (ESV)
Oh the gods we construct!
This short passage from Isaiah contains a decent amount of irony and even humor, doesn’t it? It’s easy to agree that we humans are often ridiculous creatures.
God has given us the earth to enjoy and to nurture. He has given us reason, language, music, the skill of our hands and the strength of our backs. We have minds that are able to think abstractly, to think ahead, to study and even begin to understand this amazing universe. We have the ability to think mythic and epic thoughts; to understand irony and tragedy. He has given us a sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at ourselves. We are able to gain truths through parables, through worlds “thrown alongside” our own world via story and metaphor. Many among us can plan and construct amazing works, both artistic and practical. We can peer into the deep corners of space and even venture beyond our world. We are amazing creatures, made amazing by our amazing Creator.
All these good and perfect gifts are to be presented back to the One who bestowed them, for His sake and for His glory. This can happen even when one of His creatures uses the gift to satisfy himself or make himself or others happy. I believe God takes great pleasure in the warm fellowship of Christian friends around a fire, or in the satisfying grunts of a blacksmith as he plies his trade with integrity and excellence. He takes pleasure in the love between friends and the purity and beauty of marital intimacy. Our Creator designed us to enjoy a good meal, a good song, laughter, the excitement of sport, the beauty of art, and a thousand other good pleasures besides.
Yet how easy it is for us, as creatures both animal and spiritual, to cross the line into idolatry. We are searching for gods to satisfy us every day when the one true God offers us eternal satisfaction, eternal security, and a life more abundant than we can imagine. I find myself setting up little gods around me; gods of my own accomplishment, or the small gods of the affirmation others give me, or of interests that crowd out more important things. Appetites run rampant; “their god is their belly” does not just refer to gluttony but to the insatiable and maddening desire we humans, and this human in particular, have to fill ourselves with all our eyes see while leaving God absent, to be called upon only when we’re in dire straights. I’ve flung myself down before more blocks of wood than I care to recount.
He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray,
and he cannot deliver himself or say,
“Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
Lord God, my King, teach me to be satisfied in You alone.
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”
– Isaiah 44:6-8 (ESV)