“‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.” (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2–5 NIV11)
“As gunshots echoed through the high school, a geography teacher, Scott Beigel, 35, paused to usher stragglers into his classroom before locking the door, only to be shot and killed himself as the shooter strode by.” From the New York Times
We are wringing our hands again this week, offering thoughts and prayers to families, to those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and wondering what do we do next. We’ve lived with a long line of school shootings from Columbine to today, but we’ve made no progress in stemming the tide or the sorrow,.
Facebook and Twitter, of course, have begun the usual battle of words over gun control with people yelling at each other but we’ve yelled before and it has gotten us no where. I’m reminded of the AA saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.” So we go down the same road some defending the right to have our guns declaring the problem is not guns but individuals who ______________ (you can fill in the blank) and others saying that white people may be the problem to an extent that until we get guns off the street and out of the hands of people we’re just going to see this over and over again.
Reflecting on this my mind went back to the words from Leviticus that our congregation read a few weeks ago as part of #explorethestory. God’s command that the people of Israel not sacrifice their children to Molech. Such sacrificing children to an idol was an abomination to the LORD (Yahweh).
From a position of faith one of the most important things for people of faith to do as we work forward is to discern the idols and idolatry that has captivated us. Idols that sadly we are more concerned about worshipping than we are about keeping our kids out of its hands.
Idols are those things that trust in and serve alongside of or in the place of God. Idolatry is when we worship and serve forces in creation giving them power and authority over us — when we should actually have power and authority over them. For instance, one idol that can capture us is a longing for acceptance and approval. We believe that we can’t be happy if we don’t have approval of a certain person, a certain group etc. We give that idol power over us, we serve it and it begins to eat us up as we do whatever we can to gain that approval from spending too much money to get approval, to doing what we ought not to do, to harming others and so on it goes. And over time we find that we have become enslaved to this idol.
The Psalmist writes,
“Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.” (Psalms 115:3–8 NIV11)
One of the challenges of the idols of our day is that we no longer recognize our idols. Recognizing idols was so much simpler back in biblical days when you could see an actual image, but now as N.T. Wright points out,
….[The] ancient and well-known gods have not gone away, have not been banished upstairs, but are present and powerful—all the more so for being unrecognized. In what sense are they divine? The ancients would have no trouble answering that. First, those who worship gods become like them; their characters are formed as they imitate the object of worship and imbibe its inner essence. Second, worshipping them demands sacrifices, and those sacrifices are often human. You hardly need me to spell out the point. How many million children, born or indeed unborn, have been sacrificed on the altar of Aphrodite, denied a secure upbringing because the demands of erotic desire keep one or both parents on the move? How many million lives have been blighted by money, whether by not having it or, worse, by having too much of it?
We become like our idols and our idols demand sacrifices—maybe even the sacrifices of our children.
So what are the idols that we as a Christian community need to expose and fight in ourselves and in our culture. Idols that so own us that decade to decade we put our kids in the hands of Molech? Just asking that question brings a bunch of instant answers —often depending on where you are on the political spectrum and what you think about gun control. But I believe for the Christian community to unearth idols is actually hard and rigorous work that typically pushes back on right and left demanding a third way. This third way reveals a path that will possibly be disliked by both the right and the left—but which might keep our kids out of the hands of Molech.
How do we uncover these idols of our time? We can start with idols that have typically captured every culture: Mammon, Violence, and Sex, asking how these have captured our society so that we are willing to sacrifice our kids in Molech’s arms. But we also need to go beyond these “typical idols” and look how we’ve been captured by the “isms” of our day. Perhaps especially an individualism that makes it possible for us to refuse to consider the common good over our own good (certainly shooters at some level hold their own good or the good of their group above the common good).
Whatever pathway we take we will not finally find a way to speak wholly as a Christian community and with a unique voice as a Christian community until we are willing to expose the idols—both our own and those of the culture. Exposing the idols is the first step to sending those idols into hiding and bringing victory over them.
The challenge here is that this kind of discerning and exposing idols is a long slog and a painful one for it is our own idols that we are exposing, our own willingness to give our children to Molech. We want fast and easy solutions: “Gun Control”; “Arm Teachers”; “Increase Security in our Schools”. While we should not ignore short term fixes, what we need is longterm solutions. Essential to those solutions is a Christian community that is willing to identify our idols, own our idols and do the hard work of repenting of our idols (both as Christians and as a Nation). Repenting as the Heidelberg Catechism remind us is not just saying were sorry, it is turning away from our sin and living in a new way.
As a Christian community we’ve had more than 20 years to go after this different path, but it seems that like others we’d rather shout at each other than come together to do the hard and honest work of identifying the idols, of identifying our Molech. What difference would it make if we stopped shouting and identified Molech, would the nation take notice, would a new conversation begin, and would we be able to stop wringing our hands every few months and offering our thoughts and prayers?