You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:30
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. Psalm 46:1-2
No matter how hopeful we try to be, it is hard not to think that spring of 2020 is likely to prove a turning point for the nation. I’m reminded of the famous poem Shine, Perishing Republic, which contains the line, “And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.”
A clever servant, insufferable master. People have adapted that line from the poem to many things, most notably money and technology. They are tools and servants that have a tendency to take charge of our hearts and begin to dominate us. That’s how the first commandment gets messed up. The good gifts God gives us to possess end up possessing us instead. The creation displaces the Creator as the thing we rely on. We end up putting our faith in false gods.
Fear, panic, and despair always result when the false gods (which are often good things in themselves, just in the wrong place in our lives) fail us. The government. The economy. The scientists. The environment. Even our physical bodies—they’re all excellent servants, all terrible masters, and all prone to become the false gods of our lives. When everything goes wrong, God is still God. It is our false gods that have proven themselves incapable of saving us.
The pain of all this upheaval is real and nothing to take lightly. The things God gives us to serve us are all good gifts, and He knows all our needs. Trusting the true God does not mean disdaining good government, or treating people’s economic livelihoods as nothing, or downplaying the importance of good health. It means accepting the good things of creation as gifts, but keeping everything in its place.
We take very seriously the spread of disease, the stability of the economy (which is in unprecedented territory in terms of unemployment numbers), the ramifications of politics and elections, and so forth, without letting such things become gods. These are the mountains of our lives, the things by which we’ve always navigated and assumed would also be there. Now they’re being uprooted and tossed into the sea. Perhaps they’re just being put back in their proper place.
Money is not God. Science is not God. Physical life and health are not God. When people panic, they tend to think that you either have to treat something as the most important thing or else you’re not taking it seriously at all. Christians refuse that choice. We neither deny the goodness of, nor put our faith in, things like science, money, health, or government. We keep everything in its place, knowing that even the mountains are not eternal.
One translation of A Mighty Fortress, Luther’s great hymn on Psalm 46, it this way—“And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” We shall have no other gods before the Creator. We receive the things of creation—government, technology, finances, health, etc. from His hand as undeserved gifts, as servants, not masters. And when they give way and fail us, we need not fear, for we know that our God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana