Recently, I was reading Psalm 115. This particular psalm is right in the middle of what looks like a very cohesive worship set! The psalms in this section of the book are inspiring, talking about the greatness of God in awesome terms – “The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.” (Psalm 114:3)
Psalm 115 opens with a bold declaration that I may muse about on a different day: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and Your faithfulness.” (Note to fingers – I said we’ll talk about this a different day; stop wanting to type about this.) The psalm goes on to contrast God in the heavens to the idols that people make:
3. “Our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
4. Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.”
These idols have mouths, but don’t speak; eyes, but don’t see. They have ears, but don’t hear; noses, but can’t smell anything. They have hands, but don’t feel; feet, but don’t walk. Our God does whatever He pleases, they are incapable. Then the psalmist drops this on us in verse 8: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”
The idols made by the neighboring countries were made to look like people in their features (and sometimes animals, and sometimes they only vaguely resembled either, but you get the point). They were made out of precious metals: to be beautiful, and to show the worshiper’s devotion to his or her god. Skillful craft was involved in their making. But no matter how skillfully carved, shaped, molded, or polished, these idols were powerless. The psalmist describes them as mute, blind, deaf – unable to function and ineffective as a deity. They have no feeling in their hands, and they are not able to go anywhere on their own. And yet the people still worshiped them and trusted them for whatever it was the particular deity was supposed to be able to do for them.
Back to verse 8: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about this sentence. The psalmist is saying that the craftspeople who made the images are like the gods – mute, blind, deaf, oblivious, unfeeling, immobile. The worshipers are the same. And it is not difficult to draw the spiritual comparison. Without faith in God, even though we are physically capable, we are are truly unable to speak, unable to see, unable to hear, unaware of our surroundings, unable to feel, stuck where we are, powerless. The creators of these idols made them in their own fallen image, and “those who trust in them” choose to worship something that is no more powerful than they are on their own.
I started wondering about the idols in my own life. The basic definition of an idol is “anything that takes the place of God.” Anything that takes the place of God. I’ve heard preachers try to tie this definition to a concrete “thing” in our world to identify as an example of an idol, and what usually happens is at least a few members of the audience choose to say, “Well, I don’t have a problem with [whatever the example was], so I must not have any idols.” They choose to be blind and deaf to the idols in their lives, thereby choosing to continue this powerless worship. So what do I choose instead of God?
In reality, I am not so different from the idol-makers and the idol-worshipers of the psalmist’s day. I choose to hear what I want, I choose to see what I want. I use my hands for what I want, I allow my feet to take me only where I want to go. I choose to put myself in the place of God. I make comfort, enjoyment, achievement, popularity, and knowledge for myself and of myself more important than knowledge of God. If I’m crafting an idol, she looks exactly like me, but more polished. My idol is the idealized version of myself I try to present to the world.
It’s super hard to admit that I have a tendency to worship myself. But with the way our world works currently, isn’t that what we’re taught? Self-reliance? Self-improvement? Self-esteem? These are highly valued traits, markers of success. We just don’t call it worship.
But if we’re brave enough to say that our idols look like us because we have started worshiping ourselves (and by started I really mean since the beginning of time), we can be brave enough to admit that we’re just like the worshipers in Psalm 115:8 – just as powerless as those items they could hold in their hands. And once we admit that we’re powerless, we can turn back to the powerful God described in verses 1-4 of this Psalm. The power of God changes us from powerless, ineffective self-worshipers to activated, effective servants.
Instead of choosing to be mute, we can speak and sing praise to God (in fact, this is the psalmist’s exhortation through the rest of the chapter). We can also speak encouragement and truth to each other.
Instead of choosing to be blind to our own faults, we can choose to look at ourselves through the filter of God’s holiness. And we can be thankful for the grace that covers over our faults, because we will never measure up on our own.
Instead of choosing to be deaf, we can choose to heed the teaching we are given. We can exchange “knowledge for self and of self” for knowledge of God and the wisdom that comes with it.
Instead of choosing to go through life oblivious, we can turn our “noses” on – not just to the beauty of creation, but to the beauty of God’s faithfulness. We can take some time to marvel about what God has done, and pray for what He will do.
Instead of having hands that don’t feel, we can choose to reach out to those around us. To meet actual needs in our communities. To make a difference in the name of Jesus.
Instead of staying stuck in our own circle, we can choose to move our feet. To go. To spread His message. To extend hope. To build relationships. To be ready to say, “Yes” to whatever God asks.
I know these things are not easy to choose. It’s easier for me to rely on myself than to truly depend on God. But I don’t want to be a self-worshiper one second longer. So I’m going to start making some of these hard choices, moment-by-moment, so I can actively trust God the way I say I do.