They Exchanged Their Glory
“They Exchanged Their Glory …” for What??
Some things I read just leap of the page like a coiled viper lying in wait! Frequently the source is a Bible verse or passage, but not always. Here’s an otherwise non-exciting headline from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC) that snared me, “Again, Denmark Tops Happiness List.” Hmmm, we’ll get to that in a second, but first, here’s the concluding punchline from Psalm 106:20 quoted above “They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull that eats grass.” Whoa! That bull, the infamous Golden Calf, was the product of idle hands and minds that dabbled in the Devil’s Playground when GoToMeeting beckoned Moses to Mt. Sinai. It has always astounded me that the folks that just walked through ‘dry land’ beneath towering pillars of raging Red Sea water would so quickly exchange that God-experience for a bull fashioned from their trinkets … that in simple reality eats grass! But sadly to say, I think that exchange is a common experience for many of us.
Back to our happy-happy Danish friends. Can we all in unison say, “Gimme a break!” Who in fact, determines a national Happiness Index? Well, apparently someone does because the AJC references the 2016 World Happiness Report recently presented in Rome, Italy – and maybe you guessed it – at the World Happiness Conference! I’m coming up a bit short on enthusiasm for that vital agenda, but did you know, we Americans are not near as happy-happy as the Danes? We’re #13 on the list – too many people unhappy with Donald Trump I suppose!
Incidentally, another name for the “bull that eats grass” in Exodus chapter 32 is an idol … that is, “an object of adoration, often to excess … an object worshipped as a god … or an object/idea worshipped other than the One God,” (Encarta English Dictionary). Psalm 135, sub-titled the Vanity of Idols, speaks both to an idol’s impotence and its seductive power … “the idols of the nations are silver and gold made by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, they have ears but cannot hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them.” Now that’s a seriously frightening proposition!
Back again to the happy-happy Danes. “We have no worries,” says social worker Knud Christensen musing on a Copenhagen street, “and if we do worry, it’s about the weather. Will it rain today, or remain gray, or will it be cold?” Denmark’s #1 Happiness ranking is actually an accolade based on a variety of social factors to include “access to medical care, family relations, job security, political freedom, and degree of government corruption,” (well, they might have us on that!). No doubt – these are all very important; who wouldn’t want these safeguards in their life? But I wonder what they were exchanged for? A little research (and personal experience) provides some hints.
Denmark is one of the most secular countries on the planet. I’ve been there … and just about everything known to man there is legal so as not to rattle anyone’s cage and make them unhappy. Yet, they also claim to be 83% Christian (2015 Pew Research Forum). Bernie Sanders thinks Denmark is a modern day Utopia; he’d like to make the USA a big happy-happy Denmark in all its secular splendor. Let’s be on guard for what that exchange might look like! Admittedly, I’m no expert on Denmark, so I went to the official Danish web site to see what they say about themselves and their Christian legacy. Here’s their word-for-word evaluation, not mine.
“In practice, Christianity today comes to the forefront, primarily during ceremonies surrounding birth and death. That is to say like the other Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, Denmark is also among the world’s most secularized countries, in which religion and Christianity play only a minor, often indirect, role in public life.”
Well, my friends, there’s the exchange. Christian conviction has been exchanged for the secular idol of happiness. Said feistier, the Danish happiness bull eats grass! If indeed I had any international notoriety, which I don’t, I’m sure I’d get a bushel-basket of mail, or Tweets, from angry (and unhappy!) Danes. But I hold to that premise.
Here’s why. If the Danes (or Swedes) think I’m shamelessly promoting a ‘religious’ or Christian government structure, they’d be seriously mistaken – I’m not. In fact some of the world’s most brutal regimes and despots over the ages have positioned themselves on religious high ground and perpetrated every brand of evil towards those that don’t share their explicit dogma (think Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIS, Jim Jones ‘the Kool-Aid guy’ in Jonestown, and even Hitler). Frankly, I’m not sure self-righteous Christians today might fare any better!
We Christians are not called to establishing government or hijacking Jesus for political gain. Yes, there are multiple ways to participate in government, but we are called to resist the “patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2) that government often promotes. Our agent for resistance is the hearts and minds of people in Christ’s Church. When that grows and is authentic, things change. This tension with government is historic norm and precedent for the Church and Christianity has never prevailed by legislating morality in a secular world. Consequently, Christians are more often than not, unhappy with secular decision making (i.e., the ways of this world) – and when Christians are fully satisfied or “happy-happy” with secular government – something is dreadfully wrong! It’s in this secular-Christian tension that the Glory of God resides … and when Glory is exchanged for the lowest common denominator of happiness … the bull eats grass.
Then how do Christians find hope, stability and ‘happiness’ in a world that generates more perplexity than clarity? How can your soul find rest when oppression and injustice seem to prevail every night on CNN? Where does one go for focus and clarity when government openly opposes foundational Christian principles that have been bent into something unrecognizable by secular logic? Nowhere but the worship of God and the foot of the Cross … all anchored in Eternal Unchanging Truth. And that Glory is exchanged for nothing.