Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods

Idolatry – the worship of a false god or image as such, a practice prohibited by the law of God. Figuratively, any obsessive concern can become idolatry.

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms

Last year as I was doing one of my Bible in 90 Days marathons the theme that kept on I jumping out of the page was idolatry. The constant struggle of the people of Israel to keep their eyes on the one true God. Over and over again idolatry has been at the center of human frailty. From a serpent that claims some wisdom to the Baal’s, Marduch’s, Ashera’s, and El’s. In the New Testament there were more identifiable gods: power, fame, money, and religion. By the time Paul writes his letters he too reminds us of the constant human tendency that is at the root of our bent towards sin and death and that is our exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans” Romans 1:23.

Our prioritizing and humanizing of things and then placing them at the center of our identity, loyalty, and conviction continues to do what it has done from the beginning, separate us from God, from our true humanity, and from the true humanity of the other. This is not a new phenomenon for it is the basis of our primal story and the center of our existence as God’s people. We in need to be transformed, redeemed, and restored so that we can become a light of who we truly are as created ones different and apart from the creator.

In the last few days we have witnessed the terror of gun violence that inflicts us in the United States. We then have witnessed the terror of oral violence that continues to paralyze us from acting towards a more peaceable society. Some of this violent rhetoric is active and ovbious—name calling, insults, demeaning words, and mischaracterization of the other—the other is not as obvious but as deadly, silence. Specifically the silence that demands that we not mention certain words: guns, racism, xenophobia, white supremacy.

The people of God are not immune to such violence. We too get in the fray and often create more harm. In Facebook posts and comments, in emails to fellow believers (and pastors), and in face to face conversations around the coffee pots at work, in the marketplace and in the church we behaving in ways that place our ideologies, partisan affiliations, and world views as primary identities instead of our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words we too easily falling into our primal sin of idolatry.

The Christian faith calls us to “confess Jesus Christ as our savior, put [our] whole trust in his Grace and to serve him as Lord.” We forsaking other God’s, especially the gods of our own making, the gods we love to see in the mirror, and the gods of nationalism. We standing in the messy border between what is and what is to come, the kingdom of the world and the kin-dom of God. We shining a light and recognizing that evil, injustice, and oppression exist in the world. That in a society we must be willing to come together and say the words, struggle with them, and not allow ideological paranoia rule us, our knees easily bending to the gods we can easily see.

I don’t know what to do about guns, I don’t own one, and never will. I have an ethical and theological struggle with how easily they can take a life. I’ll have to confess that I do not trust myself with one, my emotions too raw at times of fear, uncertainty, and anger. But neither do I judge or blame another from having one.

I do know and have experienced racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy both in individuals, and in systems (including the church). I say this while continuing my sanctifying work from my own prejudices. I say this while recalling key events in my life when I have received such evil treatment both directly and indirectly, by word and by deed, by action and inaction. At times it has been my skin color, at others my accent, at others by my name (If I had a written collection of “Juan” jokes it would be more than one volume), and yet at others by those who claim “color-blindness” to avoid calling those around them and the systems into a new way.

I say this to invite all of us to a willingness to say the words. To study the history of colonialism, the slave trade, Women’s Suffrage, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, scientific racism (including but not only eugenics), natural theology, and American History (including Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, and American Civil Religion) and from the perspective of Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino Americans (especially Mexican Americans).

In saying the words and being willing to learn more we open the doors for repentance, forgiveness, and pardon. We, like those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, being willing to be honest about our own history, even when painful, so that we never forget. Remembering is key to forgiveness, freedom, and future.

Let us come together as people of God humbly and willingly engage each other in these conversations with love, compassion, curiosity, and in community. In doing so we might model for our neighbors, friends, love ones, and even enemies what it looks like to live into the way of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. Us, all of us, who claim to follow Jesus, living a cruciform life, with no other gods before us!

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I say these things with bated breath but convinced that silence would be a worst sin. As a pastor I have committed that sin (alongside pride and idolatry) more than most others out of fear. I also say these things because I actually believe that the people of God can disagree on policy, politics, party affiliation, and worldview and yet be committed principally to the way of Jesus, to the way of love, compassion, justice, and peace.

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