Many Christians assume the problem of idolatry is mostly an ancient problem. In scripture we do see that, at times, the Hebrew people were tempted to worship gods from other cultures and faiths. Many of these included idols such as statues or images that would be worshiped or revered.
In perhaps the most ironic example of idol worship, while Moses was receiving the commandments on Mount Sinai, the Hebrew people grew restless in their waiting. Perhaps thinking Moses had died on the mountain, they end up breaking a bunch of the commandments just as God is giving them! They create an idol for themselves in the form of a golden calf.
Despite what we may assume, it is not clear that they were trying to worship a different god—in fact, it appears that the purpose of the calf was to give praise to and worship the God who had freed them from Egypt. The difficulty in knowing their real intention is simply that bull worship was quite common in many cultures of that day. Still, even if their intentions were good, creating the golden calf was highly problematic.
The second commandment Moses would receive was the command to refrain from creating idols or images for the purpose of worship. This commandment clearly ties to the first, which prohibits “having any other gods before” the God of the Bible. Even if the golden calf was meant to represent the God of the Bible, this still goes against that second commandment. As we learn throughout scripture, God does not like being limited or boxed in. God was fully aware that when humanity worships an idol or image—even if it is meant to represent God—it often distracts and distorts the faith of the people.
That is the real danger of idols. Even if our intentions are good, humanity has a tendency to start worshiping the idol itself and begins to treat the idol as God. Any image, symbol, or organization that we treat with deep reverence and unquestioning loyalty can quickly become an idol.
In the wake of yet another school shooting, I cannot help but see how the Second Amendment to our Constitution has become an idol for too many—and a direct affront to the second commandment.
The unquestioning loyalty to this amendment and the graven image of the AR-15 seen on T-shirts, hats, pins, and bumper stickers make this incredibly hard to deny. Despite the overwhelming biblical evidence that Christ calls us to peace, to simply question the obsession with guns is dangerous business for many Christian leaders.
Even if we were to collectively confess that the Second Amendment has become an idol our nation worships, I recognize that we will likely disagree on exactly what steps should be taken. Still, it is our inability to even have the conversation or make any changes that has become so disheartening. Children are dying from gun violence in schools. Grocery stores, movie theaters, or places of worship have become war zones. Yet we still cannot agree to seriously regulate or do anything meaningful to stop the madness. It is frighteningly clear that our modern-day calf is made not of gold but of steel and aluminum.
We must recapture the narrative of our faith. There is no faith argument in support of weapons that are built to kill other humans as quickly and destructively as possible. There is no faith argument in support of an unquestioning loyalty to a secular amendment. There is a clear calling to be a people who promote peace and another way of living that often runs counter to culture.
For now, my daily prayer is found in the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory,” which asks of God: “Cure thy children’s warring madness; bend our pride to thy control.” May it be so.
Nathan Hollenberg is pastor of Linville Creek Church of the Brethren in Broadway, Va.