Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Propping up Dagon

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half a face

Image by allison hope nichols via Flickr

Those poor Philistines...

Their god was broken!

The trouble began after they defeated the Israelites and took away the Ark of Jehovah. What a coup that had been! And what more fitting thing could they have done than to bring the disgraced Ark into the temple of Dagon, their god, so that their god could enjoy looking at what he had conquered?

But things didn't turn out the way they'd hoped. The next morning, temple worshipers entered to find that their god had fallen down on its face before the Ark of Jehovah.

Well, that had proven embarrassing, but it had been a simple enough problem to resolve. Just get enough strong men to lift Dagon back up, and then the worship could go on, and all would be well, right?

Except the next morning, when the worshipers returned, they found Dagon prostrating himself before the Ark again, and this time his head and hands were broken off. Yet even after this, the Philistines still claimed Dagon as their deity.

We modern westerners shake our heads at the naiveté of our Philistine brothers of long ago (1 Sam 5:1-7). How could they be so foolish as to worship a statue, and to call something breakable "god?"

And yet God's Word tells us that we are guilty of all the things for which we judge others (Rom 2:1). And last night the Spirit brought the story of Dagon and the Ark to mind and convicted me with it.

I have no right to laugh at anyone. I have broken gods, and I have spent my life desperately trying to prop them up.

I'm willing to bet some of you have done the same.

"No," you may argue. "I don't worship anything that's broken in my life. I hate what's broken in my life!"

Really? Could it be that your hatred proves your worship? Why do you hate the broken things? Is it because you believe that their brokenness is the reason your life is unfulfilled? Doesn't that mean that you believe your fulfillment rests in the longed-for wholeness of those things?

If they were whole, life would be perfect.

Once you prop up Dagon, worship can go on, and all will be well, right? We can ignore the fragility and pretend it never happened.

Did it ever occur to you and me that, if something can be broken, it doesn't deserve the place of a god in our lives? It can't be the source of our soul's deepest needs.

What is my "Dagon?" What is yours? It is anything that we believe holds the key to our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our happiness, our fulfillment, our joy. It could be a certain person, a certain type of marriage or family situation, health for ourselves and our loved ones, a certain amount of money, or anything else.

For some of us, the idol hasn't been broken yet, and we choose to ignore the fact that it's fragile. Worship goes on unabated. But for others of us, the smashing has happened, and it hurts. Oh, how it hurts. We run frantically to pick up broken pieces, we search for the super glue, we sweat and strain and groan to put everything back together on its pedestal so life can go on again. It's our god, isn't it? We need it!

Even atheists have gods that they worship, though they would never call them by that name. But what is worship, if it is not the acknowledgment of the total worth of another, and our abject need of them? And what is a god, if it is not the person or thing that we worship?

Let's look back at the Biblical narrative. Not only had the Philistines' god been disgraced, but Jehovah had struck their city with terrible plagues. How did the Philistines handle their situation?

They acknowledged the superiority of Jehovah to Dagon (1 Sam 5:7), but did they bow before the True God? No, they decided to send Him away by sending away the Ark that represented His presence (1 Sam 5:11). And they created a new sacred ritual to worship the place where Dagon's broken body had landed (1 Sam 5:5).

Is anyone here going to argue that we do differently? What happens if we have to choose between obedient worship of God and whatever our idol might be? Which do we choose, especially in a knee-jerk moment?

How do we respond to God's call to rejoice in Him whatever our circumstances? Do we push Him away and tell Him we cannot possibly rejoice until we get all of the pieces glued back together? Do we resent Him for even implying that we should rejoice in Him when He hasn't fixed our idol for us?

Remember, the Ark of Jehovah sat there in the Temple while the worshipers of Dagon struggled to reassemble their god. The people ignored the Ark and did not worship Jehovah, and Jehovah did not help their repair efforts.

It would have been unloving for Him to have done so.

Last night, the Lord asked me to look at the broken, shattered pieces lying all around me, and He gently told me to stop trying to prop Dagon up.

Put down the shards. Turn around and look at Me. I am not broken, nor breakable. Your life might be easier with those pieces put together, but then you would worship them, and miss out on Me. Many unbelievers have the things you long for. Would you trade places with them? Do you really believe that these things you've spent your life longing for actually hold the key to life for you?

No, Lord. I had not realized that I was worshiping the image of a rebuilt idol. But I was, wasn't I? I believed everything depended on my fixing what was broken, or even on YOU fixing what was broken. Either way, my hope was in the wholeness of something other than You. But Your wholeness is eternal. I have been a fool. I do not need these things to be repaired. I only need you.

What does this mean in my life? Does it mean some sort of castle-in-the-sky spiritual aloofness? Do I tell others that they don't matter to me anymore, because I don't need them?

No, just the opposite. You see, worshipers are characterized by need. We need what our idols give us, whatever that may be. And when our idols prove to be less than infinitely rewarding (as idols inevitably do), we needy people tend to become demanding, self-centered, leechlike. The ugliness of our grasping may not be clear as long as we're getting what we want, but even so, we do not love as Christ loved. We love as the child loves the lollipop, as the addict loves the needle.

I love what you do for me. Period.

But what if I cease to have idols? What if I draw close enough to Christ to find my life in His infinite sufficiency? What if I no longer need to draw life from the people or things around me?

The closer I come to Christ, the less I will feel like hating the brokenness, or the broken people. They can't "let me down" if I am not demanding their wholeness to feed my soul. I will be patient with the brokenness, and will love the broken people, if I, in my own brokenness, find my life and my healing from Above. And ironically, when I cease demanding and start loving, God may use me to help heal the brokenness around me like never before, because my efforts will be acts of love, not attempts to rebuild an idol.

At least, that's what the Lord is showing me. Now to learn to live in the light of that truth…

I've got a long way to go.


Yes, I've been gone a long time, and no, I didn't disappear off the planet. But life has happened, and life needs God's merciful intervention. Please pray for our family whenever you think of us. Thank you!

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Laurie M. said...

We've all got a long way to go, Betsy. It will be a much better trip, if, as you say, we help each other along the way instead of tearing others down because of their broken condition.

Karin said...

You put so well into words some of the same thoughts and challenges I've been going through lately. Hubby's health is changing - he's losing words and I desperately want things 'whole' again. Your post has been an amazing help to me today. As Laurie commented, "We've all got a long way to go." Thankfully the Lord is with us and will never leave us!

Betsy Markman said...

Thank you for your comments, Laurie and Karin. Our God is faithful even in the worst of our trials.

I am hoping to write more on the idea of the broken things in my life bowing before Jehovah. A poem, perhaps? We'll see what the Lord gives.

Ed said...


Thanks for sharing again the wonderful truths the Lord has given you. Your writing and your insights are very enlightening. Thanks also for signing during the worship service--it adds so much!

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