Sunday, February 12, 2023

We Become What We Worship: Reflection on Psalm 135:15-21

 Pictured taken by Aida Spencer at the Batey Hotel Boutique in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic January 2023.

          According to a common cliché, you are what you eat. VideoHound, the popular movie review guide, adapts that to, “you are what you watch.” There’s truth in both of these perspectives. The body is conditioned by what we eat and the mind is conditioned by what we watch in our entertainment-oriented societies.

          But the Bible takes this concept to a vastly deeper level, you are what you worship, and that has eternal implications. Psalm 135:15-19a states literally:

“the images/idols of the nations are silver and gold, from the hands of humans;

(they have) mouths to them but they do not speak; eyes to them but they do not see;

ears to them but they do not hear; indeed, not with breath (ruach) their mouths;

those making them are like them, all trusting them are (also) like them.

house of Israel, praise the Lord!”[1]

          Just the way the Bible deals with a spiritual matter by commanding a practice that is salutary to the spirit, so does the practice of eating nutritious food build health into the body and so does the practice of watching edifying programs build wisdom into the mind. The Video Hound warns: “You are what you watch, So watch smart.”[2]

          In ancient days, the nations made idols of precious metals, like silver and gold, which were as prized then as they are now. Silver and gold are natural items, but humans can make them into objects to be worshiped. The things that we create, we sometimes begin to worship. Psalm 135 points out, such idols have mouths and cannot speak, eyes and cannot see, ears and cannot hear. The idols are supposed to represent something living and precious, but the connection is never made between the inanimate sculptures and their supposedly living references. Not having any breath or spirit (ruach) they have no life and might as well be dead, just as the gods they represent have no existence.

          This month in the seaside town of Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic we came across just such an idol, pictured at the top of this blog. Close lipped, slit eyed, pinched nosed, it hung on a wall amid living flowers, impervious to the sun, shade, rain, and dark of night, seeing nothing, saying nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing. If it were taken off a hotel wall where it hung as a decoration and stored away in a closet, it would make no protest. It was simply an ornately carved piece of wood.

          Such futility is just one result of worshiping idols. As Psalm 135 describes, our veneration is wasted, because the object of it cannot respond back. In fact, it has debilitating effects on our essence and wellbeing, temporal and eternal. Why? Because all our efforts to communicate come to nothing, so we become like our creation: all making the idols have no mouth, eyes, ears, or breath, and all trusting the idols have no mouth, eyes, ears, or breath (Ps 135:16-18). In the sight of the living God, we have lost all our senses, our speaking, our sight, our hearing, our life. All has come to naught. To God we become as dead as what we worship. Many New Testament references assume these truths, for example, we are dead in sins or let the dead bury the dead (Rom 6:23; Luke 9:60).

           These truths came particularly to our attention this month, when we read the devastating news that the attorney general of the Dominican Republic (together with 41 people and 22 companies) was found guilty of stealing more than one thousand million pesos, the equivalent of almost eighteen million US dollars ($17,857,143) and he even attempted to bribe witnesses. The attorney general now has to pay fifty million pesos ($892,857 US) just to move from prison to house arrest.[3] This distinguished legal leader has lost everything he worked for since his youth: he lost his voice as an attorney general in legal matters where he was often the last guiding word. He lost his sight to help the country foresee the future. He undermined building the future on justice. His opinion, which was supposed to have represented the voice of the law, was totally compromised because it was guided by self-aggrandizement. He lost his ears because he no longer heard the pleas and defenses of the innocent. The end result is that his position and impact are totally slaughtered by his actions in this case. Rather than ranging around the country ensuring justice for all, now he is just another convict doing his time, holding his breath, confined in prison and his home. He is in a state of suspended animation. The attorney general put his effort into creating more money for himself and that is where he diverted his devotion and that is what silenced him.

          The bridge between these two accounts is investing one’s confidence and worship in idols of silver and gold.

          For those of us who realize we may be falling into the same death trap of losing ourselves to a dead idol of precious metal, we need to follow the commands in Psalm 135:1-3, 19-21, to “praise the Lord,” to reorient our lives to the living God, to whom we should be dedicating our mouths, eyes, ears, and breath: to use our mouths to praise God, to look and listen carefully at our God, the Lord, and see what the Bible tells us about God and who God wants us to be, and to open ourselves to be enlivened by God’s Spirit. In the process, as we praise the Lord, we become more like the Lord. God has already given us something very precious, more precious than gold and silver, and these are the gifts on which we build our lives’ occupations. We do not want to measure God’s gifts by worshiping what we gain in our culture, money. Rather, we want to bring everything we gain to God, otherwise, acquisitions and accomplishments become the means of betrayal to ourselves, those we serve, and our nation.

          Who wants our lives to end with death? Do not we all want to end our lives with generosity, honor, and the approval of the living God who loves us, gave us life, and wants to communicate back to us?

Bill and Aída

[1] This literal translation from the Hebrew is by Bill and Aida Spencer.

[2] Jim Craddock, ed., VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever (New York: Gale, 2004), back cover.

[3] Wilder Páez/M. Aquino, “Jean Alain Rodríguez favorecido con cese de prisión preventiva,” Diario Libre (Jan. 18, 2023): 1, 6.