Our Hearts In A Crisis
Driving through the valleys in the dark recently, I saw three illuminated giant letters: NHS. The effort someone had put in to show their appreciation for our National Health Service was impressive. During this pandemic, appreciation for our NHS has been everywhere. We’ve clapped on our doorsteps each week and put rainbows in our windows. It is only right that we show our thankfulness to those who have worked so hard in such difficult times but I do wonder if our response to the pandemic highlights a deep rooted problem in our hearts as even God-given good things can become idolatrous when they take God’s place.
Examining our idols
In ancient times, the people of God were instructed to avoid the idols of other nations. Idols were physical images intended to be representative of God. The problem with them was that they took his place and made him out to be less than he was. They were sources of trust and adoration for the people who worshipped them. That trust and adoration should have been in the true God rather than a reduced and erroneous representation of him.
Though we may not make statues or images to usurp God’s place, we can still fall into the same trap of idolatry. Anything that replaces God as the recipient of our trust and adoration is an idol. Any source of security or satisfaction that comes from outside of God and his goodness to us is an idol. Anything that guides us more than God himself, anything we love more than him or look to for provision instead of him may be an idol to us. That’s a challenging thought.
In other cultures and countries, you find shrines with statues of gods or deified people in homes and at the end of streets. Some are the source of hope for good health and a long life which doesn’t seem too far removed from our own context today. As much as it is entirely appropriate to appreciate our NHS workers, perhaps in doing so we are revealing a deeper idol of our own hearts, the idols of health, a long life and science.
Exposing our idols
In Revelation there are three series of events that might help us. As I understand them, they are not events that are still to come, but rather events that show us what it is to live in this world between the ascension of Christ and his eventual return. We see this because they describe events throughout history, from the reign of Jesus in Heaven in chapter 5 and continuing chronologically from his ascension.
Revelation chapter six gives us the first series of events. We are shown four different coloured horses that proceed from Heaven in response to a sealed scroll being unravelled. The four horses bring about four events: conflict, conquest, famine and death. The last of these includes death through natural disasters, such as wild beasts and plagues. It’s not hard to see how these events have been part of our history for the last 2,000 years. A plague is all too familiar to us at present. The point is not necessarily the specific type of event but that human life is regularly threatened and its fragility revealed.
What’s more, these four types of events expose what we may have put in God’s place. If our hope for the future rests in a robust foreign policy and national security, conflicts and conquests may cause us to hope in the God of all peace instead. If our trust rests in our health and in medicine, plagues and famines might cause us to trust in the giver of life who breathes breath into our lungs in the first place.
Angels with trumpets
For the second series, in chapter eight, we’re given a glimpse of seven angels with seven trumpets who sound them in turn. The blast of the first four trumpets brings consequences to various natural spaces: earth, sea, waters and sky. The earth is scorched with fire so that vegetation is burned, the sea is turned to blood so that the fish die, the waters are made bitter so that people die and the heavenly bodies are darkened so that the world experiences greater darkness.
Nature is often disrupted in various ways, but these are highlighted because they are representative of what we depend on for our most basic needs. We rely on trees and plants for food, firewood and construction. We eat fish and we drink water. The energy of the sun makes life in all its forms possible. As even our basic necessities come under threat, it exposes our reliance upon our storehouses and supermarkets rather than relying on God and being able to pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ Perhaps, given the scramble for supplies at the start of the pandemic, we also need to pray, ‘Give us today our toilet roll!’
Bowls of plagues
When we reach chapter sixteen, we approach the final of this series of events. This time, we have angels holding bowls which are full to the brim with plagues ready to be poured out onto the earth. Once again they disrupt the sea and the waters in similar ways to the trumpets. But the first bowl includes festering sores for humans as its contents reach the earth and the fourth bowl allows the sun to scorch instead of bringing darkness. In a similar manner the challenge for us is whether we trust in something other than God for our life, health and provision.
For each series of catastrophic events, the sources of our trust and adoration come under threat causing us to ask big questions about where our hopes and reliance lie. If the things that we trust in can be taken away, are we able to look behind the idol and trust in the God who provides life and all that is needed? Will humanity continue in false worship or will we worship the Sovereign Lord and reigning King Jesus?
Expelling our idols
With the final series and the fourth bowl, we are shown the big problem. The end of Revelation 16 verse 9 has these words: ‘They refused to repent and glorify him.’ Idolatry is such a serious problem because it ascribes to things which are less than God, that which belongs to God alone. It’s a problem that needs repenting from. As these kinds of events occur and our idols are exposed, the message that Christians hold out is for humanity to turn from idols and trust the living God.
For Christians, we humbly turn from trusting in that which is not God and put our hope fully in him. When we realise that we are looking to idols again, we repent and turn to the living God. We praise and glorify him as the God who is the source of life, health, security and provision. We commit to love him and rely on him every day of our lives, through all the events of life.
‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21).