Saturday, October 16, 2010

When Your Gods Are Taken Away

Ceramic amulets depicting ancient Near Eastern deities

"You took the gods I made… What else do I have?” (Judges 18:24)

There is an obscure passage in the Old Testament in the book of Judges about a man named Micah who made a religious shrine. The story is found in Judges 17 and 18, right after the story of Samson and Delilah. Micah made himself some gods out of silver, “a graven image and a molten image,” set up a shrine and even found a Levite priest to serve at the shrine. He thought he was all set, but then an army of 600 men from the tribe of Dan came passing through. They had their sights set on some nice farmland which they intended to conquer and settle. Upon seeing the shrine with the gods, and the Levite priests, the Danites thought that all of that would be a plus if they had such a shrine in the new land they were to settle. So the Danites took the gods and convinced the priest to come with them to carry on with his religious duties in their new land.

When Micah saw what had happened, he gathered what force he could muster and followed after the Danites. Upon catching up with them, the Danites said, “What is the matter with you, that you called out your men to fight?” Micah replied, "You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, 'What's the matter with you?' "

It is a fascinating story that doesn’t exactly fit into the typical Sunday School lesson formula for Bible passages. Micah makes himself some silver idols and installs a Levite priest as if this is all kosher, when any reader of sacred scripture knows the strict injunction against idols and images. The only commentary that the biblical writers offer is that “There was no king in those days, and everyone did as he saw fit.”

There are other things that some of us may find unsettling: the Danites found some nice land, “lacking in nothing” where “a peaceful and unsuspecting people” lived. With gods in tow, they attacked with the sword, burned down the city, rebuilt their own city and settled in the land.

“There was no king in those days, and everyone did as he saw fit.” I have the feeling that this bit of commentary is more to explain the use of idols and not so much a discrediting of pillaging, burning, and conquest of a peaceful, unsuspecting people. Nevertheless, I am more fascinated with Micah’s declaration, "You took the gods I made… What else do I have?”

Micah found himself at a desperate limit with the realization that what he had thought was his God was suddenly taken away. What was he to do? We do not know what Micah did after that, but it is quite possible that he was at the most important pivotal point in his life. He had the chance to re-vision God since his old vision was no longer adequate.

Others throughout history have had similar notions that their god was being taken away. Copernicus and Gallileo made statements that the Church did not think it could tolerate. Such ideas would destroy the fabric of faith – until it became clear that those men were right, and we would just have to adjust our concept of God accordingly. Charles Darwin caused the bottom to fall out with his theory of evolution. People thought his ideas were contrary to the Almighty, but they were only contrary to a certain world view. Then along comes Albert Einstein and later the NASA space program to discredit any remaining notion of a three-tiered universe presided over by a God in Heaven.

There are still people today accusing others of taking the gods that they made, and what in the world will they do now? They still cannot abide evolution, science, philosophy, or any other modern notion that would deny the very power if not the existence of God. For all who fear that their God is being taken from them - whether they are college freshmen confronting a world of learning or church officials confronting new social structures and scientific discoveries – those people are now at the most important pivotal point in their lives. Surely it is not dark yet. Something grand lies ahead for all who will open their eyes and let go of the gods they have made. A much greater vision of the Almighty is now within reach.

Spiral galaxiy in the constellation Andromeda

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