Reading the News in Wonka’s Factory (Jeremiah 10:1–16)

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“Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:

‘Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good’ ” (Jeremiah 10:1–5).

The Babylon Bee has recently demonstrated the inability of many to read satire. Reality is often so ridiculous that satire is assumed to be fact. Because many don’t see what’s wrong with the king having no pants on, they’re left scratching their noggin as to what the story is about. When you’ve lived in Wonka’s factory all your life, satire is easily mistaken for news.

While some cannot read satire, others question whether we should write it. Satire is thought to be a dirty bomb, off limits to those seeking to wage a just war. Don’t drop any s-bombs; they’re not polite. Evidently such super saints fail to remember Elijah and the showdown with the prophets of Baal when he mocked “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Douglas Wilsons’ insight is penetrating.

“When Jesus looked on the rich, young ruler and loved him, it is very easy for us to say that we should be loving as He was. When preachers make such applications, no one thinks anything of it. But when Jesus looked on the rich, old rulers and insulted them, why do we tend to assume that this is never, ever to be imitated? It is conceivable that such a division is defensible, but why does it never have to be defended? Some might say (and do say) that we are not Jesus, and so we do not have the wisdom to insult properly. Fine. So why then do we have the wisdom to love properly? Can’t we screw that up too?”

Perhaps the reason we cannot read and do not like satire is often the same. Frequently, the real issue isn’t that we’re loving, save that we too love the idols and we cannot bear to see them shamed.

Can you laugh? Not the whimsical laugh of fools. Can you laugh at the idols as YHWH does at the nations who rebel against Him? Concerning those kings and rulers who seek to break free from the rule of YHWH and His King we are told, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). Can you laugh at the idols of this world and hold them in derision? You may laugh at the idols of others, but can you laugh at the idols you’ve bowed before? It’s easy to laugh at Buddha or Allah, but can you guffaw over the ridiculousness of the idols of sex, politics, leisure, sports, luxury, travel, family, entertainment, success, intellect, nature, fashion, health, diet, exercise and self-righteousness? Read that list again. Real slow. Pause. Contemplate.

If you want to identify your idol, what is that thing, that created thing, that if it were cut off, if it were pushed down before YHWH and put in its place, if it were tossed into the dumpster and lit up, would cause you grief? If you have now swallowed your laugh, then will you pull some nails and push the idol down before the Lord so that you may laugh at its decapitated head (cf 1 Samuel 5:1–4)? 

Many idols are good things that we have made god things. A felled tree makes a horrible idol, but it is great for fire. Can you offer that idol up as a sacrifice unto YHWH? What is your Isaac? If God were to ask you to take it up Mount Carmel and plunge a knife into it and set it aflame unto Him, could you do it? What is that thing you cannot imagine living without? If you can live without your arm, you may keep it, but if you insist you must have it, amputate it, for it is better to have no arm unto Christ than to have two and be plunged into hell forever. Laugh at the things of creation as gods and you may enjoy them seriously as gifts.

Cleveland Is More Potent than Camelot (Exodus 20:16)

Each one of God’s ten words functions like a set of big brackets to bundle families of sin together. Thus anger was a violation of God’s command to not murder (Matthew 5:21–22). The head of each family was listed as a federal head representing all his lesser offspring. Murder heads up hatred, anger, wrath, malice, and cruelty and so on.

Who is the head of the family of lies? Spiritually, it’s Satan of course (John 8:44), but I’m speaking of the sin itself? What form of lies causes the greatest potential physical harm to our neighbor? Legal lies. That’s what is with the odd language of this command. Often this command is summarily cited as “You shall not lie,” and this is entirely justified, because daddy lie here brings all his kids in tow.

But we shouldn’t opt for the shorthand. Memorize and site the full thing. The legal context of the original commandment is best recalled because it speaks of the power of lies and truth. “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit (Exodus 23:1–3 ESV).” By lies, evil is done and justice is perverted. A false accusation could mean death. Lies ultimately always bring about some form of death. In God, truth and life are linked together. To take the lie, is to reject the One who is life.  Lies run in the opposite direction of life. All human suffering and evil were birthed into this world through a serpent’s lie.

Words are powerful. We serve a God who spoke and there was light. We serve a God of powerful words, and we are made in His image. Our words have immense power. In a passage in Reflections on the Psalms, where C.S. Lewis is making a point that is completely wrong, He says something brilliantly right, “Myth can be truer than historical fact.” As one of Lewis’ disciples put it, “A good adventure story is truer than dull history.” Here’s my point, in the magical tales we see that words have power, but here we’re told, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Bah! Your words, my words, man’s words are much more powerful than that—for good and ill. If Camelot were real and Cleveland the tale, Merlin would blush with envy over the power of our words.

We’ve not only believed a lie, for which we are culpable because we loved the lie, we’ve also spread the lie, a lie about God. For our loving and believing the great lie, for our rejecting the God of all truth in who is life, we are dead in our sins. But in Jesus, truth and life have come for our Redemption. When Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He is saying that He is truth and life for dead liars. As by believing the lie of Satan we died, so by believing the truth of the Savior we live.