Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
These are excerpts from his sermon last Sunday morning.
What’s up with the Bible’s concern about idolatry? In all of the Abrahamic religions, idolatry or the worship of idols is strictly prohibited.Idolatry is easy to understand when we see the golden calf. We get it when there is an object substituting for God. But, of course, idols can be more insidious than golden calves or bronze bulls. Idols can be ideas. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship...humans commit idolatry whenever they honor and revere a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons, power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, or money.”
We commit the sin of idolatry whenever we place our faith in an image, an idea, a promise or a hope other than the God of Creation. There are other idols Americans worship that are as damaging to our relationship with God as any golden calf. That idol is war. I am not talking about the obvious idols of military conflict. That’s easy pickings. I am talking about what we call “the wars.” The war against drugs, the war against poverty, the war against terrorism.
Idols? Idolatry? Yes, every bit as much as the golden calf. Recall the first instance in which idolatry became an issue of faith. The people of God have been delivered from Egypt. They follow Moses into the wilderness. Moses leaves them to go to the mountain top for his 10 Commandments moment with God.
Exodus 32:1-4: “It is a rush of fear that causes the people to sculpt the golden calf. They suddenly feel all alone, abandoned in the wilderness, fearful that Moses may not return. “The people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
It was their fear, not their hope that causes them to turn focus their faith on a visible, understandable, discernible object. It is in their fear, they cannot find the God who has been faithful to them, who has cared for them and delivered them. The consistently vehement Biblical admonitions against idolatry serve the idea that there is only one God, a God who provides for our needs, who is present in our lives in a relationship of mutual trust. Fear often breaks the bond and causes us to look elsewhere for our hope. That can be a golden calf, as it was for the children of God left in the wilderness…or it can be turning away from God in the hopes the state can resolve our fears.
It is no different today when we talk about the so-called wars against drugs, the war against poverty, and the war against terrorism. The Old Testament laws against idolatry were fully anchored in the idea that resorting to idols was an unfaithful alternative to trusting God. God knew the human heart then as God does today. The human heart can be a tool of love or a tool of fear.
So…why then do I count the cultural wars against drugs, poverty and terror as idolatry. Because in each instance, we have placed our faith in the state, our government, programs, bureaucracies, police, the military, politicians, the CIA, the DEA, the TSA…we have made a deal with the state. We will pay our taxes and you solve our problems.
At the very root of the drug problem in this world, the problems arising from the impoverishment of millions and the use of terrorism…at the very root of each of those problems is the fear felt first by the children of Israel. We don’t trust that God can solve these problems and so we put our faith in an idol.
In the war on drugs, we have worshipped a golden calf believing that if only we arrest enough people and throw them in jail and throw away the key, the problem can be solved. In our fear or terrorism, we put our faith in the sword, believing that if only we kill enough Muslims, we can be safe again.
We look at the poor, the hungry, the homeless and say “the government, that idol of last resort, the government should do something, there should be a program and where there is a program it should work better.”
Putting our trust in God is not a passive hope but an active faith, lived out in ways that show the world we love God enough to love our neighbors, especially our difficult neighbors.