Ornate shrines and elaborate statues stood in every corner and along the walls of the pagan Hindu temple in northwestern India. Men worshipped in one section as women gathered in another. Some Hindu worshippers stood while others sat on the cold floor. Some were silent as others chanted an eerie babble and whine. A creepy tingle went through my spine as I sensed a devilish presence. I didn’t stay long. I suppose the worshippers were sincere... sincerely wrong, I would say. But they were religious as they paid homage to some of the thirty-three million Hindu gods.
Idolatry has always been a problem. The first commandment forbids the worship of any god other than the One True God. The second commandment forbids idolatry. “Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4–5).
Camped at the base of Mount Sinai, the Israelites grew impatient and demanded that Aaron “make gods” (Exodus 32:1) for them to serve and worship. “Aaron replied to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” (Exodus 32:2–4). Dare I say it... how stupid! Everyone, including Aaron, knew that the golden calf hadn’t led them anywhere!
Today our gods are bank balances, air-brushed photos of naked women, dignified titles before or after a name, professional athletes, Hollywood stars and starlets, and thirty-three million others. These idols, like the golden calf or the Hindu gods, are lifeless and powerless.
When Paul left Berea, he traveled to Athens in southern Greece and the area known as Achaia. In Athens, Paul “was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). The people weren’t Christians, but they were deeply religious! They worshipped statues and shrines and objects made of silver, gold, stone, and wood.
As Paul stood before a group of Athenians, he declared, “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ ”
The gods of Athens were the mythological figures of Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite and many others. Paul saw the statues and figurines, but Paul’s attention was drawn to the shrine labeled, “To an Unknown God.” Brilliantly, Paul used the opportunity to point the lost souls to Jesus. “I know your ‘Unknow God.’ He’s ‘the God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth ... he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things’ ” (Acts 17:24-25).
Paul was bold... like we should be. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but ... some people joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32–34).