Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Christian Perspective : The Folly Of Idol Worship (Manila's Feast of the Black Nazarene)

"Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God." ~ Leviticus 19: 4

Imagine the miles-long queue of devotees that formed past midnight way into the next day and beyond till the day of the actual procession of a life-sized image of the Black Nazarene - and you see people young and old from all walks of life in their miserable state - mostly coming from remote places - just to get near the statue, kiss its feet - and go home in ecstasy believing answers to their prayers are on the way. Such is the incomparable devotion and religious fervor you can see from devotees and fanatics alike of the ebony statue during the early stages of its feast in Manila. But that's only a prelude to the actual procession day with which devotees are expected to turn up in millions.

Today the 9th of January, is the actual procession day and crowd estimates according to authorities range from 5 million to 9 million. Latest report says, a 44-year old male devotee has died while participating in the carriage of the Black Nazarene probably due to tiredness and suffocation that led to his having a heart attack.

Actual scenario

The culmination of what they call 'Traslacion' or the actual procession of the Black Nazarene normally draws devotees numbering to over 5 millions. And each one of them tries to at least touch the image while it is being carried. While it is impossible for the old and sickly to venture near the carriage, they can still get someone as proxy - probably a strong and fit relative to bulldoze their way onto the carriage -  and touch the image with a special cloth which they believe can bring healing to their sickness. Of course when you battle it out with another five million people who are equally as determined to get close to the image and touch it, the odds of you emerging unscathed from such an ordeal is zero. On previous occasions, records show that the event has produced deaths and limbs lost - that instead of people getting healed from their sickness, they just topple on the scene - not because they experience epiphany right where they stand, but simply because these devotees get suffocated and crushed.

The folly of idol worship

I'd been there half of my lifetime. When I turned seven, my mother took me to a Catholic church four towns away - where the patron saint is San Isidro Labrador (the one who pulls up his garb showing his thigh dripping in blood from a dog bite while the dog stands calmly beside him). Even as a child, I was not impressed to be on a long queue watching impatient mothers dragging their children and let them watch scolding one another for not following first-come first-serve rule while waiting for their children's turn to kiss the image. (I remember certain amount was then required of us after completing the process which everyone in line should dutifully oblige - a church employee sometimes runs out of loose change that causes chaos and stalled traffic at the exit.)

Idol worship has been a way of life for most Filipinos dating back centuries ago from the Spanish colonization. It has been the most successful commodity the Roman Catholic empire has exported around the globe for more than a millennium. Hardcore Catholics would vow to die defending their religion - and their idols. They believe they are doing God a favor if they put themselves in harm's way as their way of participating in Christ's sufferings. But does the Scriptures approve of such practices? 

The Scriptures below is a testament to God's hatred for idols that like a kindergarten teacher He would show us the perfect example of the embarrassment man has brought upon himself for his idolatry and His disdain for people who do such a practice:

"All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?
People who do that will be put to shame;
such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
they will be brought down to terror and shame.
The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
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!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
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?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” ~ Isaiah 44:9-20

It is very clear that the God of heavens, the Creator of the universe shows His contempt for idols. He hates idol worship and shames idol worshipers for their foolishness. Why would a man bow down to the work of his hand? Did he not go to the forest and cut down a tree and a portion of it he carved and shaped into a man and then worshiped it; and some portions he used to make fire and warmed himself and baked bread from it? In the scriptures above, God was taunting his created man for not using his sense of reason and He feels sorry for him that he cannot be saved from his foolishness.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught His disciples that God is a spirit and that He seeks a worshiper who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The Bible is God's truth and nowhere in the Bible that says God commands His creatures to make images resembling Him for no one has seen God and still live. The Ten Commandments written by God and given to Moses has been passed on from the time the Jewish people fled Egypt up to the present generation but only to be changed by the Roman Catholic church because they believe their authority stands above the Word of God. Let's find out the the glaring dissimilarities:

The Second Commandment from the Bible:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my Commandments. ~ Exodus 20: 4-6

The Catholic Second Commandment:
"Thou shalt not take the name of thy LORD thy God in vain" ~ (This is actually the Third Commandment out of ten in the Bible. There is idolatry in the Papal system so the Second Commandment has been deleted or sometimes it has been absorbed into the first. All remaining Commandments are therefore shifted along one count.)

Why is Idolatry a Sin and an Abomination to the Lord?

1.  It is a clear transgression or disobedience of the following commandments of God.
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image - any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth.: ~ Deuteronomy 5:8

"You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it: for I am the LORD your God." ~ Leviticus 26:1

"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." ~ 1 Corinthians 10:14

2.  It is a work of the flesh rather that of the spirit.

"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, IDOLATRY, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies." ~ Galatians 5: 19-21

3.  God is a spirit, and we must worship him in spirit and in truth.

"God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth." ~ John 4: 24

4.  We must not worship God in earthly things which are lowly in forms, wears and tears, and perishes in time. Isn't representing God (who is spirit, Holy, Almighty and everlasting), with a wood, metal or stone, a dishonor to Him?

"Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen'." ~ Deuteronomy 27: 15

"Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed." ~ Isaiah 44: 9

5.  We must not also think that God is like an image formed by human's art and invention.

"Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising." ~Acts 17: 29

6.  God does not dwell in man-made temples or buildings.

"God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands." ~ Acts 17: 24

7.  The last but not the least, God does not give His honor or praise to carved images.

"I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images." ~ Isaiah 42: 8

Final Thoughts

I do not in any way gloat at the millions perhaps billions who have been deceived by the Devil into worshiping idols thinking that they are just a representation of God on earth. I pray that they will come to the knowledge of truth - that they be set free from the bondage of idolatry and religiosity. God did not appoint anyone on earth to be His official representative as what the pope he claims himself to be - nor He commissioned craftsmen to carve an image to be paraded supposedly representing Him and command multitudes to flock around it and get crushed and die, and voila they already did God a favor by dying for His cause.

People need to be saved from their sins and idolatry is one of them. No idolater will ever enter the kingdom of God - that is what the Bible assures us. But God has given us His Son Jesus to die for our sins - the Jesus who is alive today, the omnipresent One who is not confined inside the Quiapo church and emerging only once a year to give people false hope. - the Jesus who is neither black nor white for He is a spirit and in His glorified body - the Jesus who is the God of all mankind who did not stay a baby all His life just what the Sinulog portrays Him to be. This same Almighty Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords knocking at the door of your heart, pleading that you hear Him  - that if you invite Him to come in He shall be with you, save you from your sin and give you eternal life.

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