God as an Idol

Reflection: Job 38 – 41; Psalm 145; John 12:23 – 26

In 1966, Elisabeth Elliot, who had been a missionary to the Aucas of the South American Amazon rain forest, wrote a novel entitled ‘No Graven Image.’ It is the story of Margaret Sparhawk, a young unmarried woman, who had dedicated her life to translating the Bible for the remote Quechua tribe of the Ecuadorian mountains. Key to her work was the discovery of a Spanish speaker, Pedro, who knew the unwritten dialect that Margaret needed to learn in order to translate the Bible into that particular language.

One day, while she made her way up the mountains to visit Pedro, she thanked God for His timely provision of Pedro and the progress they were making in the translation work. She arrived at Pedro’s home to discover that he has an infected, painful wound in his leg. As part of her duties, Margaret provided ordinary medical care and therefore had with her a syringe and some penicillin. Pedro asks her for an injection, and she decides to give it. Within seconds, Pedro begins to experience anaphylaxis – a severe body allergic reaction to the penicillin. The entire family gathers around in tears, as he lies convulsing. Margaret is astonished at what is happening and desperately prays, “Lord God, save him, Lord, save him. What will become of your work? You started this work. You led me here. You answered prayers and led me to Pedro. O Lord, remember that. There is no one else.” But Pedro dies, and indeed it means her work is over. The book ends with a profoundly confused young missionary. There was no last-minute reversal, and no ‘silver lining.’ The last line in the book states, “God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He is God, He had freed me.”

The idol of the book’s title was a God who always acted the way we thought he should. He was a God who supported our plans, how we thought the world and history should go. That is a God of our own creation, a counterfeit god. Such a god is really a projection of our own wisdom, of our own self. In that way of operating, God is our ‘accomplice,’ someone to whom we relate as long as he is doing what we want. If he does something else, we want to ‘unfriend’ him. But at the very end, Margaret realizes that the demise of her plans had shattered her false god, and now she was free for the first time to worship the True God. When serving the god-of-my-plans, she had been extraordinarily anxious, never sure that God was going to come through for her and ‘get it right;’ not really treating him as God, the all-wise, all-good, all-powerful One. And when she did so, it freed her from the desperate, doomed, exhausting effort to seek to control all the circumstances of her life and those she loved. So one of the purposes of suffering is to glorify God by simply treating Him as the infinite, sovereign, all-wise, and yet incarnate and suffering God that He is. Elliot aptly surmised, “GOD IS GOD. IF HE IS GOD, HE IS WORTHY OF MY WORSHIP AND MY SERVICE. I WILL FIND REST NOWHERE BUT IN HIS WILL, AND THAT WILL IS INFINITELY, IMMEASURABLY, UNSPEAKABLY BEYOND MY LARGEST NOTIONS OF WHAT HE IS UP TO.”

Excerpts From ‘Walking with God Through Pain & Suffering.’ Timothy Keller.