Not a Handmade God

     We remember Luke’s description of the “great commotion about the Way” recorded in Acts 19:21-41. Paul had preached and taught in Ephesus as he had in Athens (Acts 17) that God was not created but is the Creator. This caused quite a stir among the craftsmen who made souvenir models of the temple of Diana (or Artemis) for sale to the people who came to visit that famous place. I think we have all picked up little things like this in our travels. I have a paving stone from Lisbon, various things from Guyana and Ghana and a little representation of the Empire State Building.

     The evident leader of the craftsmen was a silversmith named Demetrius. He was under the impression, likely quite accurate at the time, that if folks did not view Diana as deity they might not spend as much on the little shrines that he and others made and sold. He stirred up a “commotion” as Luke said (Acts 19:23). As is always the case with things like this a mob gathered. Paul wanted to speak to them and would have done so but some of the disciples and city leaders who were his friends kept him from doing so. This was undoubtedly wise, because when Alexander tried to speak the people in the theater went wild for Diana for two hours. They would not listen to reason.

     But they did listen to the city clerk who told them that Paul and the other Christians had done nothing wrong. He also told them if they kept up this fuss they could be in trouble with the authorities above his level. The Roman Empire did not like this kind of disorder.

     There is a line in this account that deserves our careful attention. It was spoken by Demetrius, the worried silversmith: “moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands” (Acts 19:26). God is not handmade. This, of course, is not new news. This truth was part of the Law of Moses: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image- any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5a).

Isaiah pointed out the foolishness of idolatry in 44:10-20. In that passage we find that the making of idols is a useless exercise because those idols thus made cannot do a single thing but make its maker tired and hungry. He asked the rhetorical question: “Who would form a god or image that profits him nothing?” The answer is presented with another self-answering question in verse 19: “Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”

     These days the problem is not blocks of wood or little silver shrines. In our culture we have outgrown these idols. Ours are special and much more sophisticated. John spoke of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). His words are a succinct description of popular idolatry. We have made beauty an idol. We have made money an idol. And we have made self an idol.

     We ought to know better. Physical beauty fades with time no matter the measure taken to forestall it. Yet old people still try to capture youth. We measure success in material terms. We think quality of life is secondary to quantity of things. And we do not want anyone, particularly God, telling us what is right or wrong. We are much too proud for that.

     It is not much different for us than it was for the people Isaiah had in mind or those folks in Ephesus. Some had taken “things” from this life and started worshipping them. Others, like Demetrius, really worshipped the way of life the little shrines provided them. In both instances they missed the essential truth that material reality was created by God and it is Him that we ought to worship.

     God is not handmade. He is the Creator, we are the creature. To forget this truth is to “fall down before a block of wood.”