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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Idolatry Is Boring

From Peter Leithart's commentary on 1 Kings 15–16:
Once Jeroboam I sets the pattern of rebellion and resistance to the prophets, Israel descends into turmoil, and the turmoil is depicted literarily in the acceleration of the narrative. . . . As a result, 1 Kings 15-16 is a school child's nightmare, the kind of chronicle that evokes lifelong loathing of history.  A king rises, a king reigns, a king sins, a king dies. . . . Meaningless and confusing dates for indistinguishable kings, all told in a colorless and repetitive prose.  The setting and events are themselves repetitive and boring. . . . Rise, reign, sin, die.  War and sin, sin and war. . . . 
[T]his is precisely the author's point: idolatry is boring.  Idolatry produces nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing fresh, nothing adventurous.  Jeraboam pretends to take a walk on the wild side, pretends to be doing something slick and edgy.  His wildness is not just tame.  It is somnolescent and acts as a soporific for the northern kingdom.  Rehoboam permits high places in Judah, but that just leads to drudgery of the same.  Solomon's reign, by contrast, is full of excitement: political intrigue to secure the throne, clever sleuthing to determine which prostitute is telling the truth, a continuous party in Israel, adventurous endeavors on the high seas, a court visit from the exotic queen of Sheba.  When prophets show up, the world suddenly opens up even wider: hands wither and heal, altars are split, lions leap into the text and onto a prophet but do not eat the donkey, jars of oil never empty, dead children are raised, bears come crashing out of the woods to slaughter mocking young men, and dead bodies thrown into the wrong grave come catapulting out again.  The moon turns to blood, the sun is black as sackcloth, stars fall from the sky; dreams, signs, visions; blood, fire, and vapor of smoke.
Idols are lifeless and therefore cannot impart life.  Lifeless idols only make for lifeless people.  When the initial titillation has passed, idolatry quickly yields to dryness and death.  The signs of this spiritual exhaustion are everywhere in twenty-first-century culture, which has become a culture of "whatever" -- not only the whatever of "anything goes," but the whatever of "and who cares anyway?"  This is the end result of a culture that has been built on idols of success, money, pleasure, self-indulgence, sex.  Such a culture becomes slothful, thoroughly infused with what the Christian tradition calls acedia.
Traditionally, sloth is seen as an enemy of faith and hope.  The Latin word acedia ("lack of concern, lack of care") is used to describe these dimensions of sloth. . . . [A]cedia or sloth can coexist with frantic activity. . . . Our culture is a frenetic 24/7 culture precisely as a way of masking the emptiness of it all. . . .
This is the story of Israel and the story of humanity.  Adam thinks that seizing the fruit of the tree of knowledge will enrich his life with wisdom; it does not, but instead condemns him to an endless round of sweat and sadness. . . . Yahweh's word is the main participant in the battles of history, and it is Yahweh's (s)word that cuts into the boring round of idolatry and sin to make things new.
HT: Fr. Scott Adle
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