I can’t build a fire for anything. We had a fireplace at our old house, and I could get a fire going but not the kind that could actually warm you up. It was more for mood than heat. Plus, I had to constantly tend to it. I couldn’t sit back and enjoy it. Or even run to the kitchen for anything. There I sat with poker and tongs in hand and stacks of newspaper at my side, aware that my efforts were futile, like the man with the dog in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”
Here’s something you would have missed if you’d never read the book of Isaiah. Is God using satire here—one of my favorite forms of writing? It’s ludicrous, he says, to bow down before a piece of wood. You burn some to keep warm. You burn some to bake your bread. And you use the rest to make an idol. Can you not see the absurdity of it?
He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm.
He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!”
—Isaiah 44:14-17 NLT
This is completely hilarious. And also quite disturbing. We put our trust in things we’ve created, systems we’ve set up. But in the end they cannot help, for they have no power we haven’t given them. The only value these little gods have is the value we ascribe them. But God is different. He is worthy of praise and will receive it regardless of whether we choose to value him.
Whereas the little gods we fashion we do so in our own image, the true God has formed us in his image. (I wrote in “Render to Caesar” about how we bear God’s image.) But very often we try to create God in our image, and we’re left with a block of wood that’s only fit for baking bread or toasting marshmallows.
Such stupidity and ignorance!
Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
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?”
—Isaiah 44:18-20 NLT
The English Standard Version uses “in my right hand.” No offense to southpaws, but in Scripture the right hand usually refers to one’s strength. So the fool doesn’t ask: Is what I’m depending on, where I draw my strength from, really just a lie?
Satan, the enemy of believers, is behind every idol and tries to get us to worship them—and therefore himself (see 1 Corinthians 10:19-20). He is the grand illusionist. The expert liar. And what he sneaks into our hands is indeed a lie, one we fall for time and time again. (See my post “Rescued from God” for more on idols.)
Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?
What lies do I hold in my hand? What am I deluded about? What am I expecting to save me? The myth of success? The paltry security that money portends? Maybe it’s the approval of others I’ve been striving for since junior high.
Whatever it is, let’s toss it all into the fire and make s’mores.