Creation and Creator
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In this marvelous verse, the Hebrew writer says our faith is something that is “not seen.” Our faith is in God and His promises, yet we do not fully see those at this time. This idea of not actually seeing God may seem normal to us, but throughout history it has been difficult for people to worship and trust a being that they cannot physically behold with their eyes. Consequently man often begins to worship or glorify the physical creation that is seen instead of the Creator who is unseen.
It is not hard to find stories in the bible where people worshipped the physical creation. The golden calf (Exodus 32), the bronze serpent (Numbers 21; 2 Kings 18:4), and Gideon’s ephod (Judges 8) are all examples. Even holy items like the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, and the temple were treated as though they possessed this holiness apart from God. This explains why Israel felt powerful and righteous for simply possessing the ark or the temple, regardless of their obedience to God’s law.
Today we also see people glorifying the physical creation instead of God. So many religious buildings and cathedrals exist around the world, full of people who consider these structures holy and divine places. These buildings are also filled with special objects that are treated as holy. Many countries around the world still have idols to which they offer prayer and worship. There are countless ways that mankind attributes holiness to the created material things, instead of giving it solely to the Creator.
Why is this sin so prevalent? Why the desire to worship the physical? One reason is simply that it’s difficult for us as humans to trust what we can’t see. It’s a challenge to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) There is always the temptation to make faith feel more real by focusing on an actual object we can behold. Seeing something gives us more confidence and assurance. It is the same reason why people want desperately to see miracles, or to be given a personal sign from God, or even to discover some biblical piece of archaeology that definitively proves the Bible to be true. This is not to say that we are left completely blind. There are many things that show us evidence of God’s existence. But the fact remains that we do not see God, at least not yet. That is why the Hebrew writer says our faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We are sure of the things He has told us about, and we are convicted that, though unseen, He exists and will keep His promises.
There may be ways we are guilty of giving undo holiness or significance to physical things. Here are 3 examples for us to consider:
1.) Our bibles- God’s word is holy and sharper than any sword. But it is the words themselves (written or spoken) that have these characteristics, not the cover, pages, binding, and ink. Admittedly, the way we treat our bibles can often be an indication of how we feel about the words of God, but it is the message itself that we must revere.
2.) Objects surrounding the Lord’s supper- We need to be cautious about how we think of the trays that hold the bread and fruit of the vine. They may be shiny, gold or silver, and ornate, but they are merely physical trays. They bear no more holiness than any common tray. Likewise, the table that we use in the Lord’s supper is simply a piece of furniture used to set the bread and juice on. It may be expensive, decorative, and even have the words of Jesus carved into it, but it bears no holiness. Even the phrase “The Lord’s table” can be misleading. Hopefully we are using the word “table” to mean “meal” and not the actual table. Yes, Jesus was at a table when he instituted His supper, but His focus was solely on the emblems and what they signified.
3.) The building- As Christians, we are the church. We are the assembly of believers. We meet together inside a building. But that’s all it is: a building. It is very common for people to give undo significance to this building. We may think the building is special, or that our behavior needs to be “extra righteous” than usual inside this building. We may consider certain parts of the building, specifically the auditorium, as a place that should be treated as special. But these attitudes are unbiblical and dangerous. They contradict the revelation that we are the Holy dwelling place of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Placing that holiness on the building is taking a step toward idolatry.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul said that the pagans turned toward the physical and away from God. He said, “…they exchanged the glory of God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” Though we ourselves may not have gone to this extreme, we must be careful how we think and act toward the creation. We must have faith in God alone, eagerly awaiting the day when at last we are in His presence.