Vile idols are not the ones to worry about (everyone, except for those of the most infantile character, knows what a vile idol is). It’s the idols that are good and right—the idols we our intellectual and enlightened selves call good and right—that are cause to worry. Because they are not good and right. They are idols. Made by man. Hence, they will fail. And even though we know this, we follow these man-made things anyway, claiming we are “following God.” The great lie: We are pretending priests, joyously singing to our beautiful god who sprang up in the garden this morning, even though we put him there last night.
But God doesn't spring up in the garden. Man does.
God can not be created by man. Man is created by God.
Only God is good and right.
Only God never fails.
Sacrificial systems stabilize society. Anywhere there have ever been humans this has been true.
But almost as soon as they do, they destabilize, because the system and all within it fall under the spell of a simple but powerful illusion:
Sacrifice must have a reason.
To sacrifice, to give, to do anything, to release energy in any form must have a reason. And the reason is so reasonable. The reason is getting. Not only that, the reason is in itself a getting. Therefore the motive force in the universe for giving energy away is getting. The math is: "If I give, do, say, release x...I'll get y." And the corollary: "I will sacrifice a today"...why? for what reason?..." for the promise of b tomorrow."
In the beginning, this divinely straightforward equation, as clear and simple as the bite of an apple, sits comfortably in the pit of our cosmos propelling existence into the future. But before long, a sacrificial/societal system emerges which exists for one thing: itself, as it consists entirely of individuals who also exist for one thing: themselves. By flawless arithmetic the soul is hollowed in exchange for oneself, and a waste of technological gadgetry is ejected all around. And yet we know as we stumble over enlarging piles of science and circuitry that some vital miscalculation has occurred. Some essential variable has been left out of our chronic transactional machine. And everyone, captivated by the math, yet unaware of its entropic effect, drifts like sediment towards zero.
Inevitably the stable society which, by definition, promises a benevolent future to its inhabitants, grows into a transactional god ninety cubits high. A thing of solid gold demanding each bow down to the sound of its drums and sacrifice if he is to receive its gifts.
But what about the God of reality? The Jesus of “you will always have later, but you will never have right now again.” What about the God whose pleasure descends as light and fire today upon a living alter bloody with faith--which is sacrifice beyond reason? What about the God of spontaneous, simultaneous, and coexistent sufficiency? When the proper sacrifice is made to the God of reality: which is to give pointlessly, give unreasonably, give only for giving itself, give all, and give best, expecting nothing in return—then stability does not abound...love does. And then not merely a stable society manifests, but rather a Promised Land gushing with milk and honey.
Jesus connects things:
Like Sunday connects Saturday to Monday.
Like the rest connects two notes.
But not only does He connect things, he is also in the things he connects. He is in all, and yet he remains hidden to us.
It might be that our ability to see Jesus holding the world together at all, is precisely through His invisibleness at the fulcrum of things; at the hinge of events; at the transition points; at the center of the cross. Those places where life pivots are supposed to be pivotal, but they are often places we don’t notice (and ignore at our peril) because they sit in between one thing and the next. They are the valley between two peaks and the peak between two valleys—or as the Lord himself laments: “at every high place and under every spreading tree.” They are at the crossing of two events—two lines of thought. At the axis on which our world turns, although not visible or audible, He is nonetheless always there. Even in his body on the cross I can see his hands, east to west. I can see his crown of thorns and his feet—north to south. But at the intersection, it is his unseen heart that is truly on display .
When we disconnect—when we disconnect one event from another, one life from another, inside from outside, intellect from faith, church from state, emotions from reason, spirit from law, breath from prayer, news from good news, alpha from omega, first from last and last from first—we are leaving relics of idol worship at all those critical junctures, casting lots for Jesus’ clothes, trying to separate a seamless robe, desecrating the cross.
Strangely, Jesus is also the great separator: “brother from sister, mother from child”
In His moment of visibility to the soul; He cuts. He is both cut in two, and cuts in two. He is separated and separates. And in that separating, He joins anew what was previously un-joined. He connects again what had been disconnected.
…to understand the Old Testament idea of the Judaic God and sacrifice as different from all others. Sacrifice crosses all cultures, barriers and continents. The idea is so fundamental to man that it simply pops into existence in the earliest chapters of Genesis without preamble or explanation. It is treated as an a priori concept. Somehow humanity—mankind—human consciousness—Adam’s spawn—had awakened worldwide to the idea that sacrificial behavior (“give up something now for something better later”) is linked to survival. But to whom, to what, how, and why? Out of all gods to whom sacrifice is made, the Hebrews miraculously discovered only one way works for life and eternity: God is invisible. He MUST be. Otherwise He is simply an image made by man, even if the image is in his head. Man shouldn’t even name God, which is to say, even concepts, thoughts and ideas of God are already wrong. He is the God that we CAN’T see. When the Lord says “They ascend for acceptance in Mine alter” (Isaiah 60:7), He speaks of the only alter in the world with NOTHING where an image should sit to watch—an empty seat—a holy place for one only with the truest heart to fill with the Glory of the Living God.
There is Living God and living man. A relationship marvelously and purposefully beautified in the enfleshed Jesus at the culmination of redemption. God and man. No image in between the Cherubim who cover their eyes. A mirror for each other. The most perfect reflection of God requires wiping our conscious mind as cleanly as possible. To see. To see what can’t be seen.
When Jesus shows up and tumps all your stuff over...you have a choice to make.
Why does the world say, “Where is your God?”
“My God is in heaven—the perfect place—his actions are always in alignment with his perfect will: to make his dwelling place and mine become one—which requires the borderlands and gates of his heavenly domain to expand; ever coming up against my earthly one. Where heaven meets earth—at this burning fissure, this ever-moving sword of flame, this ark of life, this pillar of stone, this burning bush, this cross on a hill— a battle rages, blood is shed, transformations are the rule. Transformations to continuously bring life out of death; to make the tyrant let go; to set the captive free; to shine light into the wilderness; to make safe paths out of the wasteland; peace out of conflict; perfection out of imperfection.”
“No,” the world says. “I cannot see that. I only trust in what I see.”
Yet, because compared to all there is to be seen, one sees almost nothing; then, necessarily, one is almost entirely blind. Therefore, what one sees...is only what one chooses to see. Those places he cannot see—those giant, universe-sized swathes of blindness—become merely gaps into which he deftly and arrogantly inserts himself in success and resentfully inserts others in failure. When one makes his own values—rationally—with his 4 bits per second of narrow thought and attention—he avoids the painful sacrifice of lowering himself in humility beneath every success and the equally painful sacrifice of elevating himself in responsibility for every failure. See what man does? He takes something, and creates with it, manipulates and endows it with meaning; imbues it with a value it never had on its own (and one can do this with almost anything). And he prefers to do this far, far from any burning bushes; far from any crosses on a hill.
Those who make their highest value (their idol) something of their own creation, by their own reason, their own human hands; and trust in it—they eventually become it; their idol. They become a parody of themselves—complete with eyes, hands, feet, noses and mouths; by all appearances—a successful human. Yet, a human who is rigid, unmoving and unmoved, unfeeling, blind, unable to utter a sound, unable to pay attention to Being itself.
When the pure, unadulterated relationship with God is gone; one is in exile. It doesn’t matter where: Eden, promised land, Canaan, Shiloh, Jerusalem, New York, Texas, or one’s own home. Exile is the place where one wakes up “one day” and realizes the extent of his idol worship—the extent of his enslavement. Just as surely as when one wakes up one day next to the Pillar of stone—the cross—and realizes everything he saw, everything he thought—was wrong. He had the mind of idols. This realization upon awakening—this new fear—is the fear of the Lord, it is the beginning of his wisdom.