“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.”Isaiah 44:9-11
Upon a recent request to write a new three-part devotional series for our church, much like my last foray into this endeavor, I found myself trying to make a worthwhile stance on risqué topics. Certainly, the last two months since my last venture into devotional writing has found our world more volatile than at any other time in my life that I can remember. Racial strife, political narratives, media biases, division and polarity, considerations of others’ well-being and health by donning (or not) a mask – all of it has become tiresome and patience-reducing. I have refrained from posting my personal feelings, political or otherwise, on social media platforms and during in-person meetings strictly out of fear that I might lose my current employment position or lifelong friends. I suppose one may consider me part of the silent majority and perhaps that makes me wise. Others, however, have called me out on my silence, basically stating that to be silent is to promote all that is wrong. I have always been quite the vocal person, but have also always strived to be objective, open-minded, and forthcoming in my thoughts and personal stances, and only in the last ten or so years have I done so through the lens of what God would expect me to do as a Christian man. So, I stay to myself, make sure that my family is surviving, and pray daily that God heals the division and discord that our country currently faces.
I know that there is inherent good in people, regardless of their individual ideologies and sentiments, and that God will grant all Americans wisdom to overcome our differences through love, compassion, and understanding. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to encourage all of us to practice and spread these character traits. We remember the sacrifices that Jesus made through our remembrances of him throughout the year and our prayers in his name, and our memorialization of Jesus in many places can be a sign that healing is inevitable. Yet this idea of memorialization of Jesus Christ makes me wonder if in doing so we have formed idols, only in statue form.
Most of the world likely recognizes the most iconic statue of Jesus Christ, which resides on the mountain in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, but there are others – “Christ of the Abyss” in the Florida Keys in the U.S.; “Cristo del Otero” in Spain; “Lux Mundi” in Ohio in the U.S.; “Broken Christ of the Island Shrine” in Aguascalientes, Mexico; “Jesus Blesses/Christ Blesses” in Manado City, Indonesia; “Christ the Redeemer of the Andes” at the Chile-Argentina border; and, “Christ the King” in Portugal. Powerful displays of religious art each one indubitably is, but even statues of our Savior, Jesus Christ, are not immune to a sect of the masses who wish to tear down these powerful symbols (most would likely argue) of peace and harmony.
So how do we differentiate memorialization from idolatry? Do we consider statues as works of artistic expression or as symbols of potential conflict and turmoil? Statues are memorialized and idolized, actively or passively, good or bad. But how do we as a society pick and choose which statues are removed? Is prior oppression during the time of the memorialized figure the proverbial “line in the sand” between its continued existence or its removal? Does removal of any memorialized figure rid the world of the history behind it?
It is a near impossible answer because, yes, even the ones which might be considered controversial have historical value, yet it may also serve as a painful reminder of a darker period in history, one which shouldn’t be put on display for marginalized groups. I could argue for days about the merits of both sides of the argument (existence or removal) of most statues, but the Bible is pretty clear. We know of the commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:2), but there is an even more powerful passage.
In the book of Isaiah, in the 44th chapter, it is written that, “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (Isaiah 44:9-10) Perhaps we should never memorialize figures, good or bad, because doing so opens the door to potential argument from people who view the memorialized figure of their stance when alive. We are a people simply charged with spreading love, compassion, and peace. Ignoring history is a slippery slope, one that could doom people to repetition, but maybe statues aren’t the best way to memorialize figures and history. Perhaps we leave history to books through the written word and also in museums, and in the case of religious figures, the campuses of worship. After all, are statues truly profitable in the long run out in public or are they talking points to encourage conflict or conversation? Or maybe they are indeed subtle, passive symbols of continued oppression?
Isaiah 44:11 reads, “…Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.” Many statues may be a source of shame. Isaiah’s concern here is God’s own: the point is not to condemn the idols simply as silly – though they are – but to get to the crux of the matter: these idols cannot save. God cares first and foremost for the well-being of Israel and of all the world, so God fervently wills that people do not squander their religious energies by “praying to a god that cannot save.” (Isaiah 45:20). Isaiah continues that it is absurd to worship human work. While the work is real, the artistry is fine, and the effort itself is perhaps commendable, to worship these idols is nonsense.
Clearly the prophet, Isaiah, defines the idolatry of these statues, but what about those of our Savior, Jesus Christ? On Friday, June 26, 2020, in the little spare time that I just happened to have on this particular day, I was perusing through the Facebook social media platform and a post caught my attention. This particular post was by a former pastor of our church, Mrs. Laura Phillips Peter, who wrote the following powerful message:
Apparently a particular politician is telling their followers that ‘Liberals want to tear down statues of Jesus’ and that that would never happen if this person is elected…NEWS FLASH: JESUS WOULD TEAR DOWN STATUES OF JESUS…Jesus didn’t make his home on earth, die on a cross as an enemy of the state, then resurrect three days later so that we could make statues of him…Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of beautiful, religious art, but if it’s acting as a tool of oppression, I guarantee that Jesus would be the first to tear that ish [SIC] down…Vote for whoever you want, but don’t let your faith (or you) be used as a pawn by someone who knows very little about “this Jesus.”
Influential stance from a member of the clergy. I think embedded in her post is exactly the point of this devotional – statues, good or bad, are memorialized idols. It is incumbent upon each of us to praise our God through his Son, Jesus Christ, through the act of love, compassion, and humility. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and to recognize that any symbol, statue, book, work of art, or anything else that may be uncomfortable, disconcerting, or restrictive to our neighbors should also be uncomfortable, disconcerting, or restrictive to ourselves. We have a God-given duty to love EVERY person, regardless of political or personal stance and to follow His commands. So, perhaps all statues should be removed and preserved in textbooks, museums, houses of worship and the like. Perhaps then we can start to rebuild our broken society.
A short prayer: “Heavenly Father, we recognize the turmoil that our society faces and we want to quell our differences. Give us the wisdom and courage to break away from our own personal preferences and prejudices on current events so that we may seek to do what is in the best interest of the greater good, just as You command us to do in Your holy word. Continue to teach us to be morally driven, compassionate, loving, and caring to our brethren, now and forevermore. For it is in Your Son, Jesus’ holy name that we pray. Amen.”
Offered by Trey Earle
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