There is so much that is good in this world – so much to be enjoyed. Whether it be the fellow humans around us or the incredible world which we live in, there is plenty around us that is fascinating and brings pure delight. I remember early on in my childhood, being out in the sticks i n the middle of the night without a cloud in the sky and no artificial light of any sort and looking up at the sky. My breath was taken away as I was confronted with a huge multitude of stars in the sky. Having grown up in a busy city, it was the first time I’d seen anything like that number of stars. Or perhaps you’ve been on the top of a mountain and looked out across an amazing landcape on a gloriously sunny day, and you feel a deep sense of awe and amazement. Or you’ve just been left stunned at the incredible talent of the performers at a theatre show. Or you’ve been left speechless at the majesty of a creature in a safari park. At those moments, we often find that people are silent… even if they’re in a group. We long to share those moments with others… but somehow, to speak or to interact with other people would ruin the moment because it’s too incredible a thing to simply share with others. We are made at those moments so aware of the need to direct our wonder and praise towards something or someone greater and more worthy than ourselves, but perhaps feel unsure of where that sense of gratitude might go. What we find taught in the Bible is that at those moments in life, we are desperately crying out to worship. We want to worship something, someone greater than ourselves. And when we see and experience amazing things, the we feel that need to worship all the more. This is because we were created as worshippers – it is in our very nature to worship. The question really is not whether we worship, but who or what.
The Bible is unashamed in declaring that all these good things that we experience in the world comes from God, and is to be enjoyed as a gift from Him and for His glory. At the same time, the Bible is emphatic in calling all people to worship only the one, true living God of the Bible, the God who rescues and who saves, the God who is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This last Sunday, we were considering the story found in Exodus 32 where God’s people crafted a golden calf and then began to worship it. From this story we learn something of our innate, natural desire to worship. Throughout the history of the world people have again and again, in some form or another, worshipped and devoted themselves to one thing or another. The Israelites of Exodus 32 had particular reasons at that time to celebrate. Just days earlier they had been on the receiving end of a miraculous rescue from slavery in Egypt. For the first time in generations, they were enjoying freedom, possessions, wealth, hope, independence and so much more. They were people who had so much to be thankful for, and as humans created for worship, they wanted to something to direct their worship towards. The problem is, they decided to worship a golden statue, made by their own hands. They turned away from the God who made them, who loved them and rescued them and who made grand promises to them for their future… and they worshipped an idol. The Bible is merciless in its attack on idols, saying such things as,
“Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies?
For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.”
And because we are by nature worshippers, its not only at those exceptional points in our lives when we worship, but day by day in everything we do, we are worshippers. Very few of us here in the West are in danger of imitating the actions of God’s people in Exodus… it’s unlikely that we’ll find a figure of some shape or form and bow down before it in worship. But the Bible is clear in saying that at our very core, we are no different from the Israelites. We are people of worship. That’s what we were made to do. We all have worshipped, are worshipping and will continue to worship. If you’re thinking that you don’t worship anything, I would ask you to consider what it is that you think about most throughout a day… what is it that you think about the moment you wake up? The Israelites directed their worship towards something created by their own hands. At other times throughout human history, the temptation has been to direct worship at the very things which are being enjoyed. That night many years ago when I looked up at the stars – my wonder of the stars could easily have become worship of the stars. When at a concert, listening to the music of our current favourite artist, we enjoyment of that music can quickly turn into worship of the person making that music. Our love for our family can so far exceed our concern for anything else that they become the focus of our worship. Idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone that is not the true God. This includes the worship of physical idols, as in Exodus 32. But it is also the worship of those things which are good and which inspire worship in the first place. It is idolatry when good things become God things. When those things which are good and to be enjoyed, which lead us to a point of worship, but then become a thing to be worshipped themselves. It’s perhaps obvious to look at ancient times and the worship of statues and to see that as idolatry. It’s perhaps obvious to look at those who have so devoted themselves to the acquisition of wealth and money to the point of forsaking everything else and to see that as idolatry. But have we ever thought that those things in our lives which are good… the sports… the family… the hobbies… the garden… the holidays… the friends… that each of those things could be the idols in our lives. Have we ever considered that the good things in our lives may have become God things and the object of our worship? What is it that you worship?
No matter how good those good things are, they are in the end not God. The one true living God calls us to enjoy each and every one of those good things, which he has made and given to us, and to worship Him as the giver of all good things.