The crack of the bat echoes through the park. The calls for popcorn, peanuts, and hot dogs fill the stands. With half a season in the books, eyes are now turned toward which teams will make it to the playoffs.
By this time of year, each player should function as a well-oiled machine. Ask them what their jobs are, and each player will answer with certainty.
The catcher boasts of guarding home plate and calling the right pitches. The first baseman says his job is to catch the ball every time, even when a throw is in the dirt or over his head. The shortstop knows his position is critical because so many balls are hit toward him. The center fielder says his job is to cover everything the right and left fielders cannot handle.
On and on you go—to the third baseman, the second baseman, and the other two outfielders—and each one explains in detail his function and its importance.
Then there’s the pitcher. In a game where players spend most of their time on the field playing defense, we often credit the pitcher with the win (or blame him with the loss). Yet, a game’s outcome is not solely determined by what the pitcher sends across the plate. The game revolves around what happens with the bats.
Isaiah tells us the same is true in winning the battle over idolatry: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats” (Isaiah 2:20, italics added).
Admittedly, Isaiah is talking about a different kind of bat—the kind which literally hangs out in caves. He speaks of people throwing their idols to the bats.
Idolatry—what an arcane, irrelevant term, right? Except in a few remote, developing-world countries, haven’t we advanced beyond such ancient religion? We live in the postmodern world, after all. Science and technology have raised our quality of living and carried us beyond all that.
When was the last time you saw someone sacrifice a sacred cow? We have educated ourselves beyond idolatry. Besides, we Christians are men and women of the Book. We are carrying out the ministry of the Gospel.
I dare say that sometimes we, like baseball players, can become so engrossed in ourselves that we forget our primary responsibility while focusing more on the functions used to accomplish it. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Every aspect of our lives is to be dedicated to that end.
All too often our activities become chief ends in themselves. They quickly become the objects of our obsessions, the focus of hearts, and the consumption of our time. Isn’t that what worship requires—utter devotion?
With little to no conscious thought, we change the seat of our affection. We fall into idolatry.
The idols of Isaiah’s day were bulky, fashioned of wood, silver, and gold. Today’s idols are far more portable. Think about it—no longer do we need to carry around a totem to worship. We can access our idols of power, politics, possessions, productivity, and nearly every other category imaginable from almost anywhere at any time. Technology has given us countless ways to do this.
We conveniently access our idols through smartphones, tablets, game consoles, TVs, and PCs any time day or night. Virtualization and augmentation offer us ways to further engross ourselves in these experiences.
These technological marvels are the most iconic symbols, shrines, and tools of the idolatry we practice. They reflect to us and the world the ways in which we seek the fulfillment of our desires for power, passion, possession, and personal acceptance. They allow us to become so enamored by ourselves and our own creations that in some cases they become idols in and of themselves.
I am not denigrating modern technology. My intent is to emphasize that idolatry has less to do with form and more to do with fidelity. Acute reflection is hard to stomach, but so is medicine.
Let’s take smartphones, for example. They accurately construct an image of who we are and what is important to us. They chronicle our daily lives. They hear our words, track our moves, answer our questions, and consume our quiet time. Their data paints a clear picture of what we love and where we spend our time, talent, and money. Don’t believe me? Ask Facebook or Google. They house our personalized collection of idols.
Idolatry is, and always has been, about the worship of what we are willing to exalt over and above God. It is about the creature worshiping the created and not the Creator. Our careers, our families, political affiliations, hobbies, and even ministries can ascend to become idols. Technology enables us to do it more quickly and pervasively with few physical relics to condemn us.
What will it take for us to examine our lives and behavior against the Scriptures? What will it take to cause us to face ourselves and think? What will it take for us to be willing to cast down the idols of our own design?
For the Jews of Isaiah’s day, it took the crucible of the Chaldeans. They placed the children of God in a position where the status quo was recognized for what it was—sin. In their terrible day of judgment, they came to a place where they were willing to cast their objects of affection into the stench of guano-filled, bat-infested caves and call upon the Lord. They had to be humbled.
For them, it took the carrying away into captivity by their enemies. It took the glorification of the Lord by the elevation of their enemy to bring them to a place where they would distinguish between what was of value and what could be thrown to the bats. It cost them their homeland, their families, and their freedom.
Are we willing to allow our behavior to be informed by their example? Are we willing to honestly look at ourselves and the focus of our fidelity? In all cases where this focus falls short of the glory of God, are we ready and willing to cast our idols to the bats?
In baseball, one of the pitcher’s greatest assets is the catcher. Regardless of what his favorite pitches are, the pitcher knows the value of involving the catcher in the types of pitches he decides to throw. In his active engagement with the catcher, they can put together a winning combination and know what to throw to the bats.
There is much to be learned from this relationship. Apart from an authentic, transparent engagement with Christ in the intimate areas of our lives, we will be ineffective at casting down our idols. We will tend toward holding ourselves in highest esteem and making idols out of the tools we once employed for the service of the King.
For all the runs we score, points on the board mean nothing if we cannot preserve the win. We may be called by God to shelve our favorite pitch in order that He might enable us to truly toss our idols to the bats for the win.