When you read through the Old Testament, you can't help but notice how often the issue of idols comes up. Again and again, God reminds His people that idols are not the same things as gods, that no carved or graven image can ever have the same kind of power, compassion, mercy, love....investment...that He does. He cares about His people.
Idols? They just sit there.
But perhaps one of the most profound differences between the Living, Eternal God and idols of wood and clay that weather and crumble comes in Isaiah 44, where God says plainly that although every idol has a past, none of them has the future.
Every idol has a story. It has a place from where it came. You can tell your children the story of how you came to have this image sitting on the mantle. And they can tell their children. And they can tell their children. And one day, some day further down the road, some kid finds out that his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather carved this idol from the leftovers of another project he was working on, set it up, and the family has prayed to it ever since.
Which is cool, I guess. Most of us have some kind of family heirloom with this kind of story. But it's nothing in comparison to the stories we can tell about the God who carved the heavens and the earth out of nothing and set them in His heart that we might learn to live and love on them according to His will. It's nothing in comparison to the stories we can tell about the God who provides a ram in the bushes, an ark in the rain, a path through the sea, a Savior on the Cross.
And every idol has a present, too. If it didn't, the people probably wouldn't keep it around. What happens is that this thing comes into the house and then something happens that is considered good (sometimes, something happens that is considered accursed and an idol becomes feared, but most idols are loved for their goodness), and our human minds create an illogical-logical connection between the two events and we come to attribute the good thing to the new idol. So we talk with each other about what our idol is doing for us right now - growing our crops, protecting our household, increasing our wealth. Whatever it is. (These are the big three, I think.) And we figure that as long as that good thing continues to happen, the idol is responsible for it and is worth keeping around.
Which is also cool, I guess. But it's nothing in comparison to the God who is present in our lives, to the good He is working out for us right now. It's nothing compared to the God who provides in our poverty, who nourishes in our hunger, who shelters in our storm. It's nothing compared to the inexplicable joy that we have in a broken and fallen world for no other reason than that we know God is with us. It's nothing compared to a peace that passes understanding in a moment so far from it that no idol could save us.
But no idol has a future. No idol is set up with a promise of tomorrow; it's all about where it came from and what it's doing for us now. We have to keep doing what we're doing to make the idol worthy.
God, on the other hand, keeps doing what He's doing to make us worthy. He has for us a promise for tomorrow, sealed with the blood of His own Son, who is already living it. Jesus is already living that life after death, that same life that He promises to us, and so we know that it's real. In other words - it's hope. Not as in, gosh, gee, I wish there might be a tomorrow, but as in, praise God for tomorrow.
An idol may look like it can do a lot of things, but one thing it can never do is give us hope. Because it doesn't have it. It doesn't have tomorrow; it doesn't have a future.
Only God does.
And only because of Him do we.