St Stephen Lewisham

8th February 2009

‘Because I say so…’ Part Two

Last Sunday we looked at some of the reasons why people find themselves lost in a ‘Moral Maze’. In a maze you can’t find your way out, because you can’t see through or over those tall hedges on both sides of the path. You can see neither the way in nor the way out. And that loss of vision and the lack of visionaries (or ‘prophets’, as the Bible calls them) that has made us lose our way in today’s world.

The Prophets in the bible often spoke out against what they called idolatry. That’s not a word we often hear today. Many people think it means a wooden or stone image which simple-minded people talk to as if it were alive, in the hope that it will give them what they want.

That’s certainly one sort of idolatry. But the reason the prophets condemned it was because people preferred to worship those wooden and stone gods instead of worshipping the One True God who had chosen them to be His people on condition that they would worship Him and Him alone.

The reason we find ourselves today in just such a Moral Maze is because many of us have given up worshipping God and worship not things of stone and wood, but false visions and ideas.

Two such false ideas may are the popular catchphrases ‘Everybody does it’ and ‘I don’t see any harm in it’. These two ideas cannot be a sound foundation for any moral code: ‘everybody’s doing it’ because in some cases everyone is mistaken, or not everyone is doing it anyway whatever we may think, whether ‘it’ is drugs, sexual intercourse or shoplifting; and ‘I don’t see any harm in it’ because harmful effects often don’t appear till long after the action that caused them – It took 400 years, remember, before the link between cancer and smoking came to light!

God’s prophets understood one thing about idolatry very clearly: whenever people stop worshipping Him and worship false gods instead, the morality of those people goes downhill – not immediately, but gradually. People who start to doubting whether there is a God don’t immediately go out and shoplift or set fire to people’s houses. They still observe, for a while anyway, that residual morality which was dinned into them at, if not over, their mother’s knee.

But once we begin to ignore God, Who sees and hears and judges, rewards (or punishes) everything we do or say, there’s no earthly reason why we shouldn’t do precisely what we wish.

Of course we might still listen to those who warns us to think what might happen if we got found out, or became ill, as a result of what we intend to do.

There’s always an answer to such warnings: ‘I’ll make sure I don’t get caught’; or ‘if I get pregnant I can always have an abortion’ or ‘taking drugs doesn’t do my friends any harm’; or even ‘If I can’t be good I’ll be careful!’ But answers like those are a thousand miles away from any morality based on the belief that God has said to us ‘Thou shalt not’. Or ‘Because I say not’

The Prophets in the Bible pictured these false gods as real live beings who tempt God’s people away from doing His will, and enrol them in their servants or slaves instead of God’s. Prophets understand only too well that when God’s people start ignoring Him, they don’t believe in Nothing; they choose other things to worship to suit themselves: the choice today is a wide one.

The prophets gave names to false gods: ‘Baal’, ‘Milcom’ and ‘Astarte’, were just three false gods whom God’s people discovered by listening to their heathen friends talking about them.

When we are tempted, it helps us resist if we give such temptations proper names, like the prophets did in their day. Three of today’s false gods are called ‘Drink’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Riches’. But if we call them by their classical names of ‘Bacchus’, ‘Venus’ and ‘Pluto’ we come to see them as people who are trying to entice us away from God and into following them instead, and it becomes easier to recognize the tricks they’re playing on us in our Moral Maze.

Bacchus is the god of drink and drugs. He promises us that we’ll feel better and happier the more we accept of what he has on offer: that word ‘intoxication’ literally means ‘being poisoned’.

Of course Bacchus’s suggestion works in the short run. God created wine ‘to make men’s hearts glad’. But once people start competitive binge-drinking, or drink in order to relieve their loneliness it becomes harmful and soul-destroying: not instantly, of course, but we grqadually become slaves of Bacchus, and our health deteriorates into addiction.

Venus, the goddess of sex, promises people that they will become more loveable. Her promises turn out to be just as false as those of Bacchus. But, worse than being disappointed, following Venus often results in an unwanted pregnancy which, in turn, leads on to abortion – which is nothing less than murdering an innocent child who has been made in the image of God.

As for Pluto, the god of wealth, it’s hardly necessary to point out where worshipping him has landed us up. For Pluto is not only the god of wealth; he’s the god of death too. Pluto tells us that being wealthy will make us happy. Well, so it may, but only for a time. Like Venus and Bacchus, Pluto always disappoints his worshippers. ‘We brought nothing into this world and we can certainly carry nothing out’ when we die. Worse than that, people who come by great wealth find that spending it gives them progressively less satisfaction the more money they have to spend.

So there’s a character-sketch of three of the many false gods who have claimed to show us the way through the Moral Maze over the past fifty years. One question, however, remains to be answered: why have they been so successful?

Partly they’ve succeeded, because Pluto, Bacchus and Venus offer us things which give instant satisfaction; but mainly it’s because over this period so many people have begun to ignore God – for no better reason than ‘everyone else is doing so’ – and ‘they seem to get away with it’.

But ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. This means that, so far from believing in nothing, godless people always start filling that part of their lives which God designed to be filled by Himself with the things that the false gods have on offer and which appear to make fewer demands on them.

Some of us choose Venus, some Bacchus, some Pluto, some a combination. But the result is always the same. Without a God saying to us ‘do this because I say so’ there’s no reason why people shouldn’t do exactly as they please: and the Moral Maze becomes their natural habitat.

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