Beyond Idols

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” 1 Cor. 8:2-3

None of us really knows anything for sure, do we? What we have is opinions. For example, where are we right now? How would you describe it? A building in West Seneca, NY? But where is that? In the United States in New York State. Where is that? On planet earth? Where is that? 93 million miles from the sun. Where is the sun? One of the billions of such entities in the universe. Where is the universe? Where does it begin and end?

A few weeks ago a man sent me some pictures taken from the Hubble Telescope which was launched in the 1990. Space scientists have enjoyed looking at the photos taken of earth but also of space beyond without the barrier of our earth’s atmosphere. They have calculated how fast the universe is now expanding. Scientists have been able to construct photos of the earth taken from billions of miles away. You know what earth looks like when compared to other planets? A barely visible dot!

Where are we in the space/time dimension of the universe? Well, somewhere, but we don’t know for sure or for very long.

Paul wrote to the early Corinthians,

“…anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Cor. 8:2-3)

What does this mean? That while here in the world’s space/time dimension, we will always have limited knowledge, knowledge in a base which continues to expand. Yet if we know God, as Paul writes, in the spiritual, non-five sensory criteria, we are known by Him. Or, if we give our heart, mind and being to God, we are known. It’s mysterious language, language which can only point toward an experience.

With this short introduction, Paul then discusses the issue of eating “non Kosher” meat or that which had been offered to idols. When sacrifices were brought to the temples, it usually wasn’t just in money but with animals and food crops. The word “sacrifice” literally means “sacred offering.” Priests and those who worked for the temple couldn’t eat money, or didn’t necessarily care to food shop. So people brought in goats and other animals along with grains and plant foods. What the priests had left over they could sell on the open market or give to the poor.

The issue with Christians in Corinth was whether or not they ought to eat such food which had once been offered to idols by non-Christians. It would be like asking, “Should I buy food from anybody but a Christian?” Or should I support a chicken barbeque at the Presbyterian Church while I’m Jewish or Muslim?

Paul said it doesn’t make any difference. Idols are really “nothing” by themselves. They are just objects or pointers to something people believe. Any power they might contain for us we give them.

In the book A Course in Miracles, it says it this way:

“Recognize what does not matter, and if your brothers ask you for something “outrageous,” do it because it does not matter. Refuse, and your opposition establishes that it does matter to you. It is only you, therefore, who have made the request outrageous, and every request of a brother is for you. Why would you insist in denying him? For to do so is to deny yourself and impoverish both. He is asking for salvation, as you are. Poverty is of the ego, and never of God. No “outrageous” requests can be made of one who recognizes what is valuable and wants to accept nothing else.” (Ch. 12, III.4, Schucman, Dr. Helen (2007-12-25) Kindle Edition.)

Presbyterians and people who follow the Judaic/Christian faith have always struggled with the commandment about having “no other idols” but God. When I was young I was told the Roman Catholics worshipped idols with all their statutes and religious objects. We were only to worship God in our plain, lightly decorated, statute-free churches.

In 1987 I went one night to a large Hindu temple in south India. A special festival was going on and the place was overrun with people. We worked our way around through the temple, noticing hundreds of statutes of Vishnu and Shiva along with many others. When I returned to the small ashram, the Guru asked me the next day what I thought about the tour. I told him it was extremely memorable but I felt some guilt being around so many “idols.” To my surprise, he asked, “So about your idols?”

The dictionary defines idol as “an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed or any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion.” (Wikipedia)

Do we have idols today? Is there anything we feel so devoted to that our sense of God as One is distracted or missed? That’s a difficult question for many people and churches today. Hundreds of churches are closing each year. Could a reason because participants may not have been able to divorce themselves from the “idol” forms used in past years!

“For there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Cor. 8:6) What or Who is this God and Jesus Christ? God is Spirit, Energy, the Way, Truth, and Life. God is named “I am Who I am” which is a way of saying, “Don’t try to define me but experience me!” Jesus said the same thing of his essence according to John in his many repetitions of himself as the great “I Am.”

We all have the same “I am-ness” within us. It’s the deepest and most profound essence of ourselves. Beyond the myriad of descriptions of who we describe ourselves as being, we are simply and profoundly “I am.” It is a description of when we come to realize our “self” as being One with the One God in Spirit. We too experience the “The Christ”, the Divine within seen and felt as connected with the One Creator God.

The purpose of a church or congregation is to uplift his Center, the One God. But we ask, “Do we not gather to uplift this Center in ourselves and with others in our community? Tom Bandy wrote and taught the one main purpose of the church is to share our relationship with Jesus Christ; everything else is tactics. Or everything else can become an empty idol rather than the entity pointed toward. Unless the “idol” is seen as a pointer by the user, it is just nothing. The great teacher Gurdjieff would say without awareness our church become just a form of “Imitation Christianity”.

In the east there is a saying, “When the wise man points the finger to the moon, all the fool sees is the finger!” Scriptures and buildings called churches and temples along with the music and meetings are all pointers to the moon of Love as God is. Yet we can be only the fools who see the fingers of temporal constructions.

We could be as the man who looks at the menu with all the delicious food choices and says to the waiter, “I will just eat the menu!” Oh, we’d say, the fool!

No, it doesn’t make any difference what foods you may eat or who prepared them as long as you feel and see them as good for your mortal body. What matters is how we love one another as we love the One God. We are all different forms with different gifts, but it to the same God of Love we dedicate ourselves. Music, worship orders, seat arrangements, architectural designs are just pointers to the moon. May we land on the moon often!

My friend recently sent the following email anonymous poem to me. It was found in an Australian nursing home near Melbourne. It was found in an elder man’s few possessions after he died. Since then it has been printed in several magazines around the world and distributed to mental health centers. The poem is titled, “Cranky Old Man!”

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . .. . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . .. lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am . . . . . As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . . with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. . .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ..Babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It’s just to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. . . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . .. . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . . . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . . . . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see . .. . . …. . ME!!

Let us see beyond the outside “idols” of this world, and see the One God, the One Spirit of which we are all a part. Let us all look closer and see and feel, “Me!”


Talk offered January 29, 2012 at the 1st Presbyterian Church, 2085 Union Road, West Seneca, NY. Rev. David G. Persons, author.

Recorded at the “Persons’ Home Studio”

About David Persons

Retired minister who still writes, speaks some, hikes less, and golfs.
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