As a Browns fan (and a Royals fan) I know the pain of losing. But some losses hurt more than others. As an example, the Browns lost to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 18 times in the ten years from September of 2000-December of 2009. They only one three times. One of the worst punch to the gut losses came in 2005 when the Steelers won 41-0 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. There is something about a home loss that hurts worse than losing on the road. Even a drunken Browns fan was body-slammed by the Steelers. (see video below)
Beating someone—and so badly—communicates your absolute dominance. Or in the Browns case being beaten so badly on your home field shows the world exactly how inept you actually are. In the same way the Lord often does battle on the idols court just to show his dominance.
Consider Baal. Baal was the god of fertility. Not just the dude in charge of making babies but the one that was in charge of crops and all things agricultural. In an agrarian community Baal was a big deal. This is why the Lord says in Hosea 2:12, “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me’”.
The Israelites thought that their bounty came from the hand of Baal. Their enjoyment of the fruit of the land was a direct result of their faithful Baal worship. Or so they thought. The Lord was about to utterly strip the land of all agricultural success. They would be laid barren. And Baal was left powerless. The fertility god was shown exactly how infertile he is. As Ray Ortlund has said:
The power of life and death lies with YHWH alone, and he is able to blight her happiness and fertility and make the nation a virtual desert with no mitigation of the suffering entailed, even to the point of death. (From God’s Unfaithful Wife)
In order to win hearts Yahweh must utterly expose and shame the competing idols. Otherwise, the Israelites will bow a knee to Baal in all things fertility and add Yahweh to their affections for all else. He must show that He alone is God.
What this Means for Missions
I don’t know that Christians, myself included, are confident enough in the Lord’s beauty to do battle on the court of our culture’s idols. If we really believed the Lord’s sufficiency I’m not sure that we would engage in defensive apologetics as much as we do. I doubt we would apologize for the gospel. We wouldn’t be so afraid of hiding the sharpened edge of the gospel.
Awhile back I was out and about in the community trying to share the gospel with people. We were doing ministry in a poverty stricken area of town. Here we would try to meet people and ask if they had any prayer requests or if there was any way that we could serve them. We would keep coming back to this neighborhood week after week asking the same questions.
On one occasion we met a young man that informed us that he recently had become a Buddhist. After studying the claims of Buddha and that of Christianity and a few other religions he found that Buddhism seemed to be the most peaceful and the one that appealed to him the most. He thanked us for our time and wished us well. As we were leaving I felt compelled to ask him whether or not he had peace.
I didn’t know it at the time but I was doing battle on Buddha’s court. Buddhism is all about inner peace and tranquility. This man was pursuing that and I wondered how it was going for him. He was somewhat stopped in his tracks but nervously acknowledged that he did seem to have more peace. We went back to our cars and prayed that he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he received the peace that only Christ gives.
Three days later someone from our team received a phone call. This guy hadn’t been able to sleep for three days. He had found himself in the psych ward because he had attempted suicide. He couldn’t find peace. Apparently my off-handed question had rattled him more than he put on. He couldn’t get the question out of his mind. Thankfully, some people from our team came to visit him in the hospital and shared the gospel with him. He found true peace that day.
This is why I say we ought to do battle with the idols of our culture. I’m not saying that we present the Lord as if he’s a better Santa Claus. I’m not saying that we tell materialistic people that the way to get more prosperity is to bow a knee to the God that owns everything. Nor am I saying that we tell people that are hell bent on psychological comfort that the way to comfort is through Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that we confront the idol of comfort, prosperity, and everything else with the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. He really is better. If we truly believe that then we believe that He can take on any idol and win every time.
Church, let’s do battle on Baal’s court. Let’s body slam Baal on his home court...(how was that for a lame transition):