The Bible can be really funny at times. I can’t help but laugh, for example, whenever I read the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. When Baal doesn’t show up to inflame the sacrifice that his prophets have laid out for him, Elijah begins to mock them. The mocking is humorous but it also serves as a fascinating angle on how to respond to our idols. Mockery has a way of undercutting the attraction we have to the various idols in our own life.
In the story of 1 Kings 18, the Prophets have been challenged to a showdown. Their false god against Yahweh. They were to take a sacrifice and cry aloud to their god asking the he consume the sacrifice in fire. But when they do call out to him there is no response. We read:
And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v. 26-27)
Elijah’s response to the silence is to point out how absurd their worship of Baal is. He suggests that maybe their god isn’t answering them for several reasons: (1) he is daydreaming; (2) he is going to the bathroom – sitting on a different “throne” perhaps, or (3) he is just completely asleep. What other explanation could there be for Baal’s lack of response, right? The mockery is intended to poke fun at the idea that Baal is any kind of god at all. It is away of exposing the inherent weaknesses in worshiping a false god.
The Psalmist describes the absurdity of worshiping false gods even more pointedly. Psalm 135 states:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. (v. 15-17)
False gods are no gods at all. They are imagined rulers and divines. They are not false simply in the sense that they are the wrong god, they are false in that they are fictitious. The same, of course, is true of our own idolatry. We worship various things that we believe will satisfy us, work for us, give us comfort and reassurance. Yet, all false gods are a fiction. They do not have eyes, or ears, or hands, or feet. They cannot do for us what we insist they can. They are not actual gods at all.
We know, of course, the dynamic failure of false gods. We know that money and sex and reputation and house can’t save us, and yet there are plenty of moments where their power over us seems so real that we can’t shake it. We do serve false gods. One powerful tool in the fight against or ow idols is mockery. Time Lane notes the potential of this tool when he writes:
Another helpful way to dismantle your false objects of worship “in the moment” is to mock them…we must compare our false objects of worship with the true Person we should be worshipping…Mocking our idols shifts our gaze from something that we thought looked beautiful (comfort, peace, appreciation, respect) and places before us someone more beautiful: the incarnate, suffering, dying, risen, conquering Savior! (Unstuck, 115-116)
Mockery has away of exposing the futility of worship foolish things and pointing us afresh to the one who can hold our worship and who is truly worthy of it.
Practice mockery of your own idols. Pick those things that seem to have the most sway and influence over you. Pick a subject, desire, demand, object that you regularly look to in order to make your day feel right, normal, and good. Lane offers a few examples:
- “Diet Coke and TV news,” when did you ever humble yourself and take on human flesh to identify with my temptations and struggles?
- “Peace and quiet,” when did you ever suffer in my place, so that you might identify with my sufferings?
- “Respect,” when were you ever raised from the dead to win my reconciliation with God?
- “Appreciation,” when did you ever promise to return and wipe away every tear and restore all things? (ibid, 116)
Mockery is one tactic, and probably an underused one, which can help us fight back against sinful worship. Consider your own life and your own examples, what would it look like to mock your idols? Perhaps practice by writing out your own taunt.
False worship is truly foolish. The prophet Jeremiah points to the foolishness of idol worship; he writes:
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jer. 10:5)
False gods can do no harm, but neither can they do any good. Mock your idols and in so doing diminish their hold on you.
There was a period back in 1999 when a satanic cult group were engaged in regular attacks against my home and children. My wife and I were of course keeping watchful of our children and keeping in prayer, but it was still a very frightful and concerning matter.
After a series of monthly attacks over the course of about six months, one morning I went out to check on the back of my property, and when I turned around — I saw it: The back of my house was graffitied with a pointed message and satanic oriented symbols. Needless to say, this was unsettling.
Finding my mind spinning at this point, I desired some counsel on what ought I to do at this point. I took it and shared it with my church family small group and asked for their counsel (“In the counsel of many … there is wisdom” Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6)
After prayer, one of the young men at the back suggested, maybe we could alter their message to something good. I thought this was an excellent suggestion, so I prayed that God would provide the right words. After prayer, I opened to the book of James, and saw a verse “jump off the page.” It would fit right in over what they had written.
I Re-Graffitied our house while the neighbors watched:
“Thou believest that there is one God;
thou doest well:
the devils also believe,
… and tremble.” James 2:19
They never bothered us again.