May 29, 2009
“Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.’” – Isaiah 44:16-17
My four-year-old daughter, Bailey, cracked me up the other day.
It was dusk, and we were out on our porch. My wife was out with a friend, and I had just put my two-year-old daughter, Jenny, to bed. So Bailey and I decided to pick up where we left off in our children’s Bible story book. She climbed in my lap, and I began to read.
Now, I have to say a word about this particular Bible story book. Other than the fact that it is the same exact book that my mom used to read to me, I appreciate it for several reasons.
First, the pictures are not cartoon-like or cheesy. Each story has a well selected print of a nicely painted picture. I’m not saying that books with childish illustrations are necessarily bad, but I appreciate the effort to present children with excellence. Further, the detail in the illustrations provides for good questions and careful inspection.
Second, the author of the book strikes a terrific balance between cautious language and hard truths. Many children’s Bible story books water down the stories of the Bible so much that they are hardly instructive, even for a four-year-old. The Bible isn’t a pretty book. It is a truthful book, and many of its truths involve sin, punishment, and death. I don’t think that people do children any favors if they sugar coat these things for as long as possible. The key is not to avoid speaking about evil but to speak about it on an appropriate level. Our Bible story book represents a commitment to this principle.
Third, the book covers a lot of stories, not just the most popular ones. I think it is pretty comprehensive for a small child. A trip through the book builds a good foundation for a child to understand the scope and message of Bible. There are 184 stories total. The main figures get several stories each. For example, there are six about Abraham, ten about Joseph, twenty about Moses, and ten about David.
And there are four stories about Solomon which is where we were the other night.
The first three are very positive. Solomon judges wisely, builds the temple, and dedicates the Temple. But as in 1 Kings 11, Solomon’s story ends on a shocking note. He worships idols and does “what is evil in the sight of the LORD.” So in our Bible story book, the left page depicts Solomon with his hands outstretched in prayer to Yahweh at the Temple, but the right page depicts him with his hands outstretched in prayer to an idol. The idol is in human form with horns. It is dark gray and seated on a throne. The contrast is powerful. On the left stands a man leading the assembly after the living God. On the right, the same man is praying to a lifeless statue. What a picture of the blindness of humanity! Even the best of us are hopelessly tainted by sin.
I wanted to drive home the reality of sin and the stupidity of idolatry with Bailey so I asked her a series of questions. The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Who is that on the left page?”
Me: “What’s he doing?”
Bailey: “Praying to God.”
Me: “What is that thing on the right page?”
Bailey: “An idol.”
Me: “Who is that standing there praying to it?”
Me: “It’s Solomon.”
Me: “Because even the best of people are still sinners who disobey God. Isn’t that sad?”
Me: “Can that idol hear Solomon?”
Me: “Can it do anything for him?”
Me: “Did that idol make Solomon, or did Solomon make the idol?”
Bailey: “Solomon made it.”
Me: “What do you think he made it from? Wood? Stone?”
Bailey: pause . . . “I think it’s made out of chocolate.”
“Chocolate.” We were both quiet for a second but then exploded in laughter. I think it was funny to her because, well, it really looked just liked chocolate. But it was funny to me because I, of course, had not thought of chocolate. My adult brain told me that idols are made of wood and stone, but after she said it, it was obvious. The dark, horned man who had looked so menacing sitting in that throne now might as well have been a chocolate Easter bunny. My laughter was making her laugh harder, and her laughter was making me laugh harder. It was a great moment.
After we collected ourselves, part of me felt bad that such a serious lesson turned into hilarious laughter. But another part of me realized that the silliness of it all is actually the thing that drives home the point.
In Isaiah 44, God mocks the practice of idolatry. He says that people use wood from the same tree to build a fire and also to build an idol. Then he explains the illogical nature of such behavior: “No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, ‘Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?’” God is complaining that nobody stops to consider the silliness of idolatry. One substance is both the source of the stomach’s subsistence and the soul’s subjection.
In other words, people might as well make their idols out of chocolate.
While Bailey and I were sitting there, I realized that we had some chocolate candy in the kitchen. So we went and grabbed three mini-Snickers bites and proceeded to make a little chocolate man. I wanted to illustrate the stupidity of idolatry. We mushed the squares a bit and then stacked them. It wound up being shaped like a snowman except that the chocolate didn’t look like snow. It actually looked like stone.
Then we had another exchange:
Me: “Why don’t we pray to it?”
Bailey: “No, daddy.”
Me: “Why don’t we bow down to it?”
Me: “Why not?”
Bailey: “Because that’s silly.”
It was time to stop. I think we both had learned what we already knew, namely, sin doesn’t make any sense.
So then we ate our Snicker’s bites. I enjoyed one, and Bailey had the other two.