True and false...
I read 1 John this week, and when I got to the end, I remembered how perplexed the last verse always leaves me. It says: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:20-21) "Little children, keep yourselves from idols?" How does that fit with the rest of the book? He talks about loving God and God's love for us, about false teachers and how to recognize them, then ends with reminding the reader that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life is in him. All of this fits with his letter. But like a novel with an ending that seems displaced from the story, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," just didn't seem to belong.
That is, until my study of Abraham and Sarah took me to places I didn't expect to go. One of those places has been to books and blogs that cover ancient idol worship, particularly that which took place in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The myths and festivals, songs and stories surrounding a pantheon of gods has been both fascinating and disturbing. One website showed a group that is trying to reconstruct the ancient Sumerian myths and practices. In other words, they want to bring back the worship of the gods, to reconstruct what the ancients believed.
Some claim that these ancient religions preceded the Bible and that the Bible drew its creation story and other beliefs from these deities. But then as John tells us, we must test the spirits. Just because something is ancient doesn't mean it is true.
"Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8)
God was there in the beginning, but once Satan fell into sin, he never stopped. He has been twisting the truth in various fashions ever since. The more you study the practices of the ancient cults - some practice child sacrifice, others had ceremonies of "sacred marriage" or fertility cult worship where priests and virgins (and sometimes worshipers) engaged in sex outside of marriage. Most built temples to house idols made of wood or stone or silver or gold, but these gods could not do the things the people believed they could do on their own. Men had to carry them about, they never ate the food left for them, and the king usually had to act the part of the god (as in the sacred marriage act) pretending to be divine.
Isaiah explains idolatry this way: "He (the carpenter) plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
"They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
So I wonder, maybe John wasn't so strange in telling his readers to keep themselves from idols after all. Idol worship would blind their minds and keep them from knowing the true God, Jesus Christ, who is the only one who can give eternal life. How can images made of wood, stone, silver, or gold give life? They cannot even breath life into themselves.
It all comes down to what is true and what is false.
"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see." (Psalm 115:3-5)
"For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary." (Psalm 96:4-6)
"Little children...keep yourselves from idols."