Better to Worship Baal than Money and Technology
It is better to worship the sun than to worship money. It is better to sacrifice to Baal than to worship technology. Covetousness is a form of idolatry (Col. 3:5) that makes men unable to see anything beyond their food bowl. Science and machinery intoxicate men so that they quickly forget their dependence upon God. Western Christians are thus facing a significant challenge that few comprehend. Revealed religion will not long flourish in the absence of natural religion. Once men cast off their innate fear of God and forget their dependence upon him, any limits to perversion, atheism, and statism are temporary stopping places along the path to their full-blown hubris and inevitable destruction. Lacking even the basic religion of nature, a healthy fear of God that leads them to call him, modern western man is the definite inferior of the ancient heathen man.
This summer has been unusually cool in some regions of the South. God directly controls the weather, so there is no use in fretting about it. Yet when the weather is surprising, to where do our thoughts turn? Do we worship the Lord and seek to draw closer to him? Do we pray with more fervor than normal? Do we repent and renew our vows? If we do not, we are worse than the heathen. At least the superstitious heathen are moved by the wonders of nature to worship. We are not humbled by the signs of the heavens, for we have proudly moved past being concerned about the weather. This is a stepping stone to indifference to God’s glory in higher matters.
Ancient worshippers of Baal were terrified of a bad harvest. They looked at the world and saw chaos: alternating, devastating cycles of cold and heat, drought and flood. They believed that a deity controlled these things, punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous. To propitiate Baal, whose name means “Lord” or “Master,” they engaged in all kinds of perverse worship, including human sacrifice. How they worshipped Baal is not nearly as critical as that they did so. They did not say, “O well, it’s just the forces of nature. Let’s go to a movie or take some more selfies.” Or, “Well, let us devise some machine to control the weather and manipulate seed to get around the vicissitudes of nature.” No, they recognized their smallness before the deity. Blind and superstitious they were, but they were also filled with what Scripture speaks of as the Gentiles “knowing God” (Rom. 1:18-21). In other words, they were haunted by the inborn fear of God. He indelibly writes a sense of his power and majesty upon man’s heart. They twisted this, so that true religion was buried under crass superstitions, but they did not dare to pretend there was no God. They got on their face and worshipped.
Nature worship will take you only so far, and it will always take you to a very bad place. The failure to worship the God of nature will take you to a worse one. Today, we worship government, machines, Wall Street, and missiles. If the ancients tried to propitiate the deity, we try only to propitiate ourselves. Is there any danger? Turn to government. Is the economy precarious? Look to the bankers and manipulators of currency. Is someone threatening to shoot an American? Burn down his entire country. It is nauseating. It is evidence that we have sunk lower than the heathen. Never, not once in the midst of recent storms, school shootings, supposed terrorist attacks, or stock market ups and downs, has any notable leader knelt down on the steps of his government house and called upon the living God to have mercy upon us. He would be ridiculed or sued. What are we to learn from this? It is better to worship Baal than to worship the American way of life. It is better to scream and cut yourself in the hope that Baal will hear than to riot in the streets out of class envy or to immerse yourself in covetous forgetfulness of all that is good, noble, and important.
Many will not agree, and this concerns me, for it shows how infected we are with the love of money and ease, and how wedded we are to the idea that some expert somewhere will find a way out of the mess our godlessness has created. No such way exists. The true God is armed with vengeance against his enemies; the righteous robes of the Lord Jesus Christ are splattered with blood for a reason. All our miseries are his judgment. The ancients would have recognized this at a deep level. When horrible storms threatened to engulf Jonah and the hearty mariners that sailed the ship of his escape from God, those brave though pagan men said to Jonah, “Arise, and call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not” (1:6). It is tempting to laugh at a group of sailors yelling at Jonah above the din of the storm to hold a prayer meeting. I do not laugh any more. I see what happens to men and nations who do not tremble before the various storms God sends. They do not pray but watch more television.
It is not that those sailors or the priests of Baal in Elijah’s day accomplished anything by calling upon their gods, but at least they called upon them. At least the sense of deity that God plants in every heart he creates was not so choked out by self and things and machines that the voice of consciences was rendered completely inoperative. It can never be completely silenced, for God will not allow it to be, but it can be so muted that when we should be trembling and thus somewhat softened to listen to the truth about the one God, there is so much other racket in a consumerist, technocratic society that serious issues are never allowed to see the light of day. This would interfere with our infatuation with the whores and cads and gladiators that are famous only for their shamelessness.
Natural religion is vital to the survival of any people. By this I do not endorse natural law as a sufficient guide to truth or seek common ground with the noble pagan. In one sense, however, we should have more in common with the noble pagan who feared his god than the ignoble American who only fears when he cannot find his phone charger or receives a notice that his credit card has reached its limit. A flourishing sense of deity is evidence of common grace and that the Lord has not yet given over a people to reprobation and destruction. Natural religion trembles before storms. It sees trouble not as requiring more regulation but more piety. It calls upon its gods and feels that the deity must be propitiated before the calamities will pass. While superstitious and ineffectual, such things show that conscience is operative, which is necessary if men are to hear the gospel message of “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” If men are not trembling, they will not flinch when you call them sinners, proclaim God’s righteousness, and warn them of coming judgment. They will simply dismiss you without a hearing and likely prosecute you for reminding them of truly inconvenient truths. Their consciences may still stir, but there is a sale at the mall and the next installment of their favorite television series has just been uploaded. Plus, the children have six activities today, so there is no time to consider religion.
Indifference and mockery of this kind certainly existed in antiquity, as we learn from the New Testament. Of greater concern than the waning of natural religion among unbelievers is the waning of the fear of the Lord from the consciousness of professing Christians. I wonder how a series on fearing the Lord would be received at the local Jesus-rocks assembly. Can there be systematic study of Scripture if we do not fear the Lord? Will there be any serious attempt to frame our lives by “thus says the Lord?” Will we repent at the sound of God’s storms or his shakings of the city of man? Do our national judgments and so-called natural calamities send us running to the local prayer meeting? Do we look at the stars and confess with David, “What is man?” You see, if nothing else, natural religion confronts us with our smallness and God’s vastness. Unless we behold God’s wonders in nature and in history with awe-struck hearts, will we feel how much we need our Savior and “flee to him from the coming wrath” (Luke 3:7; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 6:18)? Will we rejoice in his dominion? Will we be constrained, as Paul was, to share his gospel? It is unlikely. The lack of a healthy fear of God underlies most of the apathy, cowardice, and selfishness that plagues us, as well as the laziness, prayerlessness, and unbelief.
It is past time for us to consider seriously what we worship. The money, government, and machine gods of our nation are impotent. They cannot hear our cries. There was at least the chance that a crying, humbled pagan would be mercifully heard by the true God, as we see in Nebuchadnezzar’s case. Our science and machine deities are mute, taking us we know not where. Government serves only itself. Our fake money has many wings (Prov. 23:5). Let us seek the true God and learn to fear him again, to gaze at his heavens in wonder, his judgments with fear, and his love with humility. He retains all his ancient power to save. He will hear the cry of the humble. He remains “glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, and does wonders” (Ex. 15:11). Only by faith in his word and Son can we forsake the idolatry of our age, rise above the superstition of the ancients, and be his children (John 1:11-12).