It seems as though with every national tragedy or crisis, we rarely have a biblical reaction to unfolding events. Instead of looking to scripture for hope, we rush to our usual political talking points. Instead of praying for people, we yell at one another. And instead of operating out of the love of Christ (who calls us to pray for and love our enemies), we get fearful above all else and think that punishing criminals will bring us salvation.
People in the Old Testament struggled with idolatry and false gods. There are countless examples of humanity’s infidelity to God, from Aaron and the golden calf in Exodus, to Baal worship during the time of the kings. I mention idolatry because I don’t think these various idols exactly “died off” once time passed. Of course, there is obviously no First Temple of Baal in Lonoke, but we still have these false gods in our lives.
A modern day example of idolatry has to do with the golden calf of Exodus. It seems as though the ancient cow got a makeover and upgrade, and now has a permanent home on Wall Street. I think this is a subtle example of how we idolize sins like greed. We desire more money, resources, and power above all else… just like a charging, unstoppable bull.
Author Gary Wills reflected on this concept of false gods after the Newtown shooting in 2012. He wrote about an ancient deity called Moloch. I find myself coming back to his article with each mass shooting as I process the tragedy.
In the Old Testament, Moloch was a demonic force of absolute chaos and violence. Devotees to Moloch practiced their pagan religion by sacrificing their own children. Specifically, they would burn their young ones alive on an altar fire. This is why some of the laws forbidding Moloch worship in books like Leviticus are so strict and punitive. To pursue this false, evil god meant that you would consider all sorts of deranged violence, including killing your own children.
The Old Testament folks might sound kind of backwards and delusional. But I firmly believe that Moloch-worship is still around today. We may not use that specific name anymore (or have a burning altar), but we still treat violence like an idol. We think that violence can save us–it is a “god.” We simply accept things like murder and assault as tragic realities. We are tempted to treat guns as idols and even develop a deep sense of reverence around self-defense, firearms, rights, and personal property. Idols can make us do some strange things. Moloch in the Old Testament led people to burn children. And violence today leads us to believe that assorted metal, plastic, and gunpowder can give us the ultimate protection and salvation.
The murderer thinks that his or her problems will go away if they just “take someone out.” School shooters think that salvation can come through the media fame and attention they’ll receive after carrying out a horrendous act. We cling to the belief that more bombs can somehow bring about world peace if we just annihilate all the people we don’t like. And even on an individual, everyday level, we think that if our enemy were to just get beat up and humiliated, that would solve our problems. Instead of trusting in God alone, we think that violence offers a solution.
There were 346 mass shootings in 2017. As well all know, violence is of course not limited to these tragic incidents. Over 15,000 die in gun homicides each year. Even more (22,000+) people will use a gun this year to commit suicide (and that number continues to grow). And there are usually several thousand unintentional shootings each year as a result of people failing to exercise proper safety measures.
Violence worship, or Moloch, is indeed very common in our world.
And just like in the Old Testament, Children are probably the most noteworthy victims of this cultural cycle of violence. With each school shooting, children feel less safe. With each suicide or neighborhood shooting, a child loses a mom or dad. With each careless accident, a family may be torn apart in an instant.
I’m neither a politician nor social scientist wonk, so I doubt I can contribute much to the gun debate on a policy level. But as a pastor, it is my job to think theologically about social issues. I am aware of when things creep into our lives as idols. Items like guns can quickly become idols without us even realizing it. Ideas like violence are frequent idols, too.
Christians are called to reject idolatry in all forms. It doesn’t matter if it is the greed associated with a golden calf statue on Wall Street, or even a gun itself. There are countless things in our world that demand our worship, attention, and devotion. In ancient Israel, these idols were physical statues. Today, the same evil powers are still at work, too. Don’t let these things get in the way of Jesus. Christ alone is our true and only hope for salvation.