“Those who worship idols are disgraced—
all who brag about their worthless gods—
for every god must bow to Him.
For you, O Lord, are supreme over all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.“
Psalm 97:7,9 NLT
What’s a “god”? It’s a common enough word, used in all sorts of contexts. It’s incorporated in profane expressions of surprise. It’s used to describe the focus of various religions. It’s even used to describe an object or pastime to which an enthusiast devotes all of his or her time and resources. But in these verses, the Psalmist declares that all such uses of the word “god”, with a small “g”, in its application in the lives of mankind, miss the point, which is that there is only one God, the Lord Almighty. The implication in his message is that such devotion to other gods is pointless.
The Psalmist brings in three attributes of the gods favoured by man. “Disgrace”, “Bragging” and “Worthless”. Firstly, there is the “disgrace” of getting so involved in the human gods that the person’s behaviour becomes worship, which then, secondly, leads to “bragging”. Then there is the consequence that such gods are “worthless”. As an illustration, there is a man living close to where I live who is devoted to his “god” – his model railway. He has converted his garage to accommodate an extensive model railway layout, and he has made a considerable financial investment in a varied and expensive selection of models. He boasts about his resources and his man made “god”. His hobby dominates his thinking and his time. Is this an idol he worships? Possibly, or even probably. One day it may come up in a discussion between him and God.
How will all these man made “gods” bow before the Lord? They have no ability to become mobile. They have no life to recognise the God we worship. So the “bowing” before God takes the form of a comparison, as between a statue and a person. Between the inanimate and the animate. And we know there is no comparison, because the Lord Almighty is the ultimate God. There are no other gods.
All that is very well, so how does the 21st Century pilgrim navigate a world populated by man made gods? Do we forsake all hobbies and pastimes? Should my model railway neighbour give it all up and become a religious ascetic? A good question, and one we should bear in mind in our own lives and circumstances. Jesus’ teaching was clear. In Mark 12, Jesus unequivocally declared in response to a question about what was the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Hmmm….