Is God a mere idol? If you look at current thinking in churches across Canada you might think so! We take a break from questions asked by the folk at Calvary today to consider a question Isaiah asks: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol?” (Isaiah 40:18-19 NRSV). This is a question posed to a people who would be feeling defeated, having been invaded and sent into exile. “What happened to the promise to Abraham to bless Your people and to bless all nations through us? Or what happened to Your promise to David to always have his descendant on the throne?” Such would be on the minds of God’s people as the Temple lay in ruins, and the citizenship is scattered across foreign lands.
And we can feel pretty defeated as Christians in Canada today. While some churches are growing, overall the numbers don’t look good. Prayer in school and other public places is a thing of the past. Values espoused in most tv shows are getting further and further from those we hold as Christians. Media portrays Christianity in a negative light at every opportunity, and anything educational assumes naturalism as the starting point. With all this the Canadian Christian can feel as defeated as an American hockey player.
Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 40 brings a message of comfort to a defeated people beginning with:
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, and her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” Isaiah 40:1,2 NRSV.
In other words, the time of exile was over, it is time to come home. The chapter ends with
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” Isaiah 40:31 NRSV.
Far from feeling defeated, God’s people will feel comforted and encourgaed. But what do we find in the middle of this encouraging chapter? We might expect something like “you will become strong,” but when we take a look we find the encouragement does not come from the strength of the people, but rather that of God. Couched in many verses extolling God as Creator and Sovereign over all nations we find Isaiah’s question “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol?” (Isaiah 40:18-19 NRSV). The answer is an obvious ’no’ for an idol is a mere creation (see verses 19-20) as opposed to God who is The Creator. Since God is who He is, God’s people can take courage and look forward to an exciting future despite their depressing circumstances.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to see a report from a denomination (not my own) which predicted the exact year the combined membership of that denomination’s churches would reach zero if it continued on its current trajectory. To even think like that is to liken God to an idol! Little wonder people outside of the Church have difficulty taking the reality of God seriously when those inside the Church fail to do so themselves. God cannot be likened to an idol, He is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And he has given us a significant task with a promise:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)
It is time to challenge the assumption among Canadians that God is a human invention, but we first need to confront our own sin of treating Him like an idol ourselves. Take courage, his presence is with us, and as we are obedient to His call, He will act. While we might fuss over declining church membership and influence in society, the only statistic that really matters is how many people around us are living without the hope of God’s salvation in Christ. God will be God, just as he always has been, and He will continue His mission of salvation, just as He always has.