Idolatry and Eating Ashes

I tried over 40 shots, playing with lighting, settings, and angles, yet this is still a poor representation of what I wanted to capture. I’m an amateur, but I’m guessing even the best photographers will have a difficult time getting an appealing picture of a plate serving up a pile of ashes.

The sin I must confess daily is self-sufficiency. Making my own decisions. Chugging along on my own inspiration and strength. Relying on my own intellectual powers, my own resources, my own intuition, cleverness, and perception. Planning my future according to my own wants and wishes.

It’s idolatry. When I slip into this way of living, I am eating ashes.

Isaiah 44 exposes the foolishness of worshipping and praying to man-made idols. The prophet depicts someone taking a piece of wood, using part of it to cook a meal and a second part to heat his home. Then he carves the remainder into an idol and names it “god,” praying to it for help and rescue.

But even while I read about the foolishness of praying to carved wood, I am thinking how accurately this describes our idolatry today.

We look to those things of our own making for help and rescue. Where does the world say we can find hope, help, security, and stability? A political candidate. An economic system. Education. Financial institutions. Make it more personal: Where do we, even as children of the Lord of the universe, look for help and rescue? Our own intellectual or physical resources? Willpower and self-improvement? The nest egg we’ve put away? The network of people who support us? The philosophy we’ve hammered out? A career we have carefully built? A church we’re committed to?

Forgive our idolatry, Father.

Isaiah says of the one who carves an idol,

The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
“Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”

I have to ask myself: What am I holding onto that is a lie? What have I made for myself and named a god, depending on it to give me a good life, to be my safety net, to rescue me from trouble, to be my guide in choices and priorities?

Watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires,” cautions Isaiah. Only torment will result. I have lived some of that torment. I sometimes try to keep my light burning by drawing only on my own resources, trying to keep warm with only those flickering fires I built myself. Perhaps the taste of ashes then is from my own fire which is so insufficient and all too easily dies.

Those who deliberately choose their own ways will see only trouble, God says. “For when I called, they did not answer. When I spoke, they did not listen.” A good description of our world today, no?

Give me the courage, Spirit, to examine my life and see my idols for the lies they are, and then help me destroy them. I want to live in the light of the Almighty, warm myself at His fire, answer when He calls, and listen when He speaks.

*

Scripture: Isaiah 44:20; 66:3-4 (NLT)

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This post was ready to publish yesterday; I just didn’t get it done then. Now I hestitate to add these last paragraphs, lest they be taken as comment on the outcome of yesterday’s elections. It is not.

The first thing I did this morning was turn on my computer and check the election results. On the local newspapers’ website was a photo of a woman standing before a voting machine, making her choices. The polling place was a large church, and the camera had also captured a bulletin board behind her, displaying in large letters: The Lord is my Shepherd. In fact, the letters were prominent enough that the statement looked like a headline for the photo.

I took it as a reminder to myself: no matter what results I was about to read, the Lord is indeed my Shepherd, my Lord, the One upon whom my life depends.

Then I headed out for my morning walk. Along the way, I passed newspaper boxes; and that photo was on the front page. But in the print edition, the wonderful reminder on the bulletin board had been cropped off. Now the photo shows only a woman voting.

Our country has been doggedly cropping God out of every picture and replacing Him with – what? What or who can equal Him? What are we left with if we ignore His calling and live with only our own idols and fires?

But for those He calls His children, He is our Shepherd. Always, constantly, forever.

Amen.

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