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Jefferson Davis statue removed

Jefferson Davis’s statue was removed from the University of Texas-Austin in August 2015. bbc.com

The problem with statues is that stone or bronze is meant to last forever, but reputations crumble much more easily.

Finlo Rohrer. bbc.com

They make the news when they are erected, proud and… well… statuesque to commemorate what was thought to be lionized and emblematic of a culture’s best.

They make the news when they are toppled, disgraced and… well… exposed for the wicked and inconsistent values they represented. Finlo Rohrer notes this in “When is it right to remove a statue?“:

The US is undergoing a cultural battle over symbols of the Confederate era that has seen a statue of Jefferson Davis removed from the University of Texas-Austin. Students at the University of Missouri also asked for a statue of Thomas Jefferson – third president of the US – to be taken down as he was a “racist rapist”.

Statues of Lenin have been toppled in many countries that have rejected communism, but last year in in some cities in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters rushed to protect statues at risk of being torn down. Equally symbolically, a statue of Lenin in Odessa was turned into Darth Vader.

The problem with our cultural idols:

Are people who do not know the Living God destined to erect and topple idols in a Sisyphus-like cycle of ignorance? From the statues of antiquity to the copycat American Idols of our day, is it inevitable that every era must wake up to the hubris of its predecessors?

In contrast China recently memorialized Mao with 2000 statues in celebration of the 120th anniversary of his birth; it is the epitome of pomposity.  But will China wake up one day, as many who have lived in the shadow of a Lenin statue, to topple Mao as they re-evaluate his ruthlessness and inherent inconsistencies?

The Problem with Idolatry:

The problem with our cultural idols is rooted in the fundamental problem of idolatry in general. Though this may be forgotten to modernity, the second commandment reads:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, on that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them: for the I the Lord God am a Jealous God…”

(Exodus 20:4 f)

In J.I. Packer’s celebrated “Knowing God“, he writes:

… idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images” [by false means].

Though I might decry the syrupy or iconic images made of Christ, they all crumble under the larger imagination of who He is. Through the prophet Isaiah, after “vividly describing His immeasurable greatness,” God asks:

To whom then shall ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?

Isaiah 40:18

“The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence,” writes Packer. “Its purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modelled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator.”

Idolatry in the end appears always to descend from feebly attempting to worship God – to enfeebling addiction to worship self. Post moderns are too quick to conclude that God is made in our image, in some anthropomorphic homage to ourselves. In fact, it is we who are made in Living God’s image – who allows no anthropomorphic likeness at all.

Attempts to worship ourselves are engrossingly idolatrous – from the Greek & Roman statues of the gods – to Oscars and modern mutations of American Idols, we get it wrong every time.

The Problem with a Jealous God?

That God is Jealous is not the problem we think it is. John Piper writes about C.S. Lewis’ problem with God’s “persistent demand” that we praise Him:

… What made it even worse is that God himself called for praise of God himself. This was almost more than Lewis could stomach. What kind of “God” is he who incessantly demands that his people tell him how great he is?

I suspect this strikes us as problematic, as it did Lewis, because we want to think that God is preeminently concerned with us, not himself. We want a God who is man-centered, not God-centered. Worse still, we can’t fathom how God could possibly love us the way we think he should if he is so unapologetically obsessed with the praise and glory of his own name. How can God love me if all his infinite energy is expended in the love of himself?

Part of Lewis’s problem, as he himself confesses, was that he did not see that “it is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates his presence to men…

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed…”

God’s pursuit of our praise of him is not weak self-seeking but the epitome of self-giving love! If our satisfaction in God is incomplete until expressed in praise of him for satisfying us with himself (note well, with himself, not his gifts), then God’s effort to elicit my worship (what Lewis before thought was inexcusable selfishness) is both the most loving thing he could possibly do for me and the most glorifying thing he could possibly do for himself.

For in our gladness in him is his glory in us.

How do you worship an invisible and un-imag-able God?

Un-imagable, yes, but not un-imaginable. As Chrystostom hinted so long ago, we try to comprehend He whom we cannot apprehend, and we are forced to explore a language to worship Him. The realm of imagination is the intersection of our presence in God’s vastness – His wider wonder world!

I beckon you therefore to leave your idols and your false (idolatrous) images of the Living God, in order to seek the One in whom you were made to most satisfied.

God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him

John Piper, Desiring God

You know what I’m going to say: “more enigma…”