1 Samuel 6:3-5 – 3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” 4 And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. 5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land.
. One of my all-time favorite movie lines is Dr. Teeth from the original Muppet Movie saying, “Golden teeth and golden tones; welcome to my presence (heh heh heh).” It was just plain funny. But I have to tell you, the concept of a group of people making golden tumors and golden mice, that ranks right up there too. And, when you realize that the Hebrew word there translated tumors has also been translated as hemorrhoids, it really is hard to keep a straight face. Can you honestly imagine fashioning a golden hemorrhoid in order to pacify the wrath of an angry deity?
But before we get too snarky with the Philistine religious leadership, let’s stop and pay a little closer attention. How often do we fashion our own forms of worship or our own personal acts of penance as if those should satisfy God? How many people do you know who are thinking to themselves that they will earn their way into heaven through religious practices, personal good works, or simply not being bad on the level of a mass murderer, rapist, or climate-destroying SUV driver? Remember, God has told us that our most righteous actions are filthy in his site (Isaiah 64:6). He has told us that there is only one way to get to him, through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). He has told us that salvation is by grace through faith and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8), and yet millions believe that they are going to heaven because they are basically good people. This is no different than a golden hemorrhoid.
Or how about in the area of worship? God has commanded us to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-ff), but many have re-envisioned the worship service so as to completely remove any faithful teaching of the Bible. Hip groups have turned preaching into a “conversation” or have set up alternative “worship” stations in the place of worship. But, if you look at the fact that God commanded preaching, is it not a little like a golden hemorrhoid to tell folks that they can go feed themselves communion, finger-paint a nice abstract, or make shapes with the chocolate syrup in the whipped cream of their decaf white chocolate mocha instead of actually hearing and responding to the authoritative word of God?
Many will be tempted to respond to the above critique of off-the-wall froofy worship styles by pointing to the large crowds that such styles can draw. Let’s be careful, however, about thinking that the results of a particular religious activity are how you can tell whether or not you have worshipped God or made a golden hemorrhoid. Once the Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel with their “offering,” they stopped experiencing the plagues. They very well could have concluded, “See, that particular god likes mice and tumors as offerings.” They did not realize that they were in direct violation of the second commandment by making little idols. The reason that the plagues on the Philistines stopped was not the tumors and mice, it was the fact that God graciously chose to stop plaguing the Philistines after the Ark went back to Israel. The Philistines did not do anything that would make them right with God, they simply stopped experiencing their symptoms of being under his wrath. So, without question, pragmatic criteria are no way to judge whether or not one’s acts of worship are honoring to God.
We live in a world where every nut case with a word processor, blog, or a few minutes with Oprah seems to think he, she, or he/she has come up with a new way to get in good with the divine (be that divine within or without him, her, or him/her); however, all of our creative attempts at religion really amount to golden hemorrhoid-making. Thankfully, God has not consigned us to the smithy to fashion for ourselves a new religion every time we get the notion. Instead, he has given us his word. That word tells us how to be right with him. That word gives us principles by which we discern how to worship him in spirit and truth. That word tells us that this life is not about a conversation with God, but is rather about becoming God’s child by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That word is solid, perfect, without error. God’s word is not up for post-modern reinterpretation, feminist revision, or Jeffersonian redaction. God’s commands are his commands.
So, how about this for an idea: Instead of creating a religion out of our own minds, why not use God’s holy word, his perfect revelation of himself and his ways, to learn who he is and how we should please him? Why not put away the golden mice and tumors of our own imaginings, and simply live to glorify God by obeying his commands, preaching his word, sharing his gospel, and loving his church? And in the midst of this, let’s give thanks to God for revealing to us how we can be made right with him by grace through faith in Christ and keeping us from having to make up our own crazy ways to please him.
For you who might think I’m advocating the “regulative principle” by calling us to follow the scriptures in worship, let me simply say that I’m not. This is not about attempting to restrict all acts of worship to spelled out commands considering that the Bible says nothing to us about the use of hymnals, microphones, or electricity in worship. We have freedom in Christ to a certain degree; however, we do not have such freedom that we can simply ignore what God has called us to do, change his meaning as it is revealed in his word, or make up new and totally unrelated activities and declare them to be as valid as those which God has clearly commanded.