As someone whose foreign-language skills are very limited (despite some efforts to learn), I can appreciate that certain patterns of speech and writing lose a little bit of color and imagery in translation. When poetry loses its meter or rhyme after being converted into another language, or context references from a past era are no longer current, reading translated content may not always have the same effect as the original (at least, until we take the time to understand the original language and context, or study from others who have done so).
Still, even translated, passages from the Bible like the following still paint a pretty clear and detailed picture:
Bel and Nebo, the gods of Babylon,
bow as they are lowered to the ground.
They are being hauled away on ox carts.
The poor beasts stagger under the weight.
Both the idols and their owners are bowed down.
The gods cannot protect the people,
and the people cannot protect the gods.
They go off into captivity together.
Isaiah 46:1-2 NLT
In this passage, the people had chosen to worship false gods. Maybe these idols were made of gold or other precious metals (given that they were deemed worth taking down and being hauled away, and it required some effort for oxen to pull them), but their value as gods who could protect and save a people was worthless. Those who had trusted in these gods were being forcibly exiled, just like the idols themselves. The people tried to “protect” their gods, including putting up the idols in the first place and maybe even standing up for these idols, but their gods were not able to return that favor. Eventually, the people were no longer able to keep logically insisting that these gods had any power to save them, regardless of what their false prophets may have previously claimed.
So, as we translate the principles from this passage to the current era, how many false “gods” are getting propped up today?
- Pop stars, political parties, and products have teams of public-relations experts to keep their image clean, putting a spin on their shortcomings when sins are exposed.
- Bad ideas are supported with everything from military oppression to venture capital. (Of course, not all projects funded by venture capital are bad, but a lot of ideas that were destined to fail have been kept around far too long through misguided funding.)
- Ardent supporters of philosophies that contradict God run out of facts to defend their positions, and resort to name-calling, insults, and marginalization of others.
(Lest we argue that some of these people and ideas are not being worshiped as gods, I would point to the number of followers who put their faith in these things, and who trust them to solve problems that would be better left to the actual God.)
In the end, though, if your “god” (whatever you trust in to make things right in the world) isn’t able to take care of itself, what kind of god is that? If a political, social, or spiritual belief is true, and you are certain that it will solve the world’s problems, why would it need you to compromise its own principles to defend it? Don’t the facts speak for themselves? Isn’t the truth always the truth?
Yes, telling others what you believe and explaining its merits are reasonable practices. After all, if you have the cure to something, it’s un-loving not to share it. But when we have to make excuses for our beliefs, or artificially help out their cause by lying or cheating so that they look better, then it’s probably time to ask whether or not we’re on the right side.
Let’s consider today what false “gods” we might be putting too much trust in (rather than the true God), and how much work we might be spending – wasting, really – in trying to justify the value of those “God alternatives” to others.
In the next part of this article, we can look at some ways in which followers of Jesus may be compromising His commandments in order to try and help Him out or (in their minds) make Him “look good”.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.