“All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord!
He is your helper and your shield.
He will bless those who fear the Lord,
both great and lowly.
May the Lord richly bless both you and your children.
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
or they have gone into the silence of the grave.
But we can praise the Lord
both now and forever!
Praise the Lord!”
Psalms 115:11, 13-14, 17-18 NLT
After expounding the attributes of God, answering the question he had obviously been asked by those around them – “Where is your God?” – the Psalmist continues by contrasting idols, inert lumps of precious metal, with the vibrant wonder of God. The Psalmist lists the qualities of idols, or rather the lack of them, and then finishes this section with the thought that the makers of idols are just like them, lifeless. So when the reader gets this far in the psalm, he is presented with the stark contrast between the living God and lifeless idols, and the pointlessness of putting trust in dead and immovable objects.
But the Psalmist wastes no further time in the discussion, desperately impatient to focus and expound on God being the Helper and Shield, the totally trustworthy Creator God. In effect the Psalm itself comes to life, abandoning further talk of idols and preferring to focus on God Himself. It’s almost as though the world and its focus on worldly objects is left on the tarmac as our spiritual airliner takes off into the God-void above, where God rules and determines our environment. Those left on the tarmac missed the flight. They didn’t even know that there was one. But God’s people were on board the airliner and soared into the blessings above. Soaring on wings like eagles, effortlessly supported by the wind of God’s Spirit.
The Psalmist briefly dips back into the thought that, like their idols, those that make them are heading for a silent grave. A grave where singing praises to God is not an option. But those soaring above continue to praise God eternally. Of course, we know that one day the graves will give up their dead and those within them will have a brief encounter with God before heading to their eternal home, a home especially built for idolators. But God’s people will continue to soar in the multi-dimensional environment where God lives. What else can we do except “Praise the Lord!” O, and by the way, the precious metal used to make idols on earth, is used for covering roads in Heaven. Hmmm..
“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….