Illegitimate Praying

The Bible tells of many different people praying to many different gods. The Jews from the Old Testament and the Christians from the New Testament prayed to the “LORD” (Yahweh, Jehovah). The false prophets of Elijah’s day prayed to Baal. The Philistines prayed to Dagon. The Moabites prayed to their false gods, as did the people of Ur. The Egyptians prayed to a pantheon of false gods. The book of Jonah says of Jonah’s fellow sailors “and every man cried out to his god.” You get the idea.

All this shows how naturally religious man is. Innately we understand that creation’s mere existence proves that there must be a Creator God (Romans 1:20; Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1). A creation, especially one as intricately designed and detailed as ours, can’t just burst forth from nothing. Nothing will continue to be nothing endlessly unless a Creator God goes to work and creates something. Therefore, the mere fact that we have a creation proves that there must be a God. As the old line goes, you can’t have a clock without a clock builder.

From time immemorial this commonsense truth has driven people to attempt to commune with the Creator God. They’ve tried to worship Him and offer up prayers to Him. But the problem has historically been that man’s nature of sin has corrupted these attempts at worship and prayer. This explains the origins of the various forms of idolatry that have dotted our world since the early pages of Genesis (Romans 1:20-23).

And so, in the midst of all the praying that is done to all the gods via all the religions, we are left to figure out who is praying legitimate prayers to the legitimate God. Someone says, “Well, I think that any prayer that is prayed in sincerity to any god must be classified as legitimate.” Certainly that idea sounds very sweet in an “I’m okay,
you’re okay” kind of way, but it simply isn’t Biblical. Did you know that the Bible says that sacrifices, and by implication prayers, that are offered to idols are, in actuality, offered to demons (fallen angels, the spirits associated with the idols)? You’ll find that teaching in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21, Deuteronomy 32:15-18, and Revelation 9:20. That’s a far cry from legitimate!

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2 Responses to Illegitimate Praying

  1. Daniel says:

    Is it sinful to have religious imagery? Are all religious images idols, even if they depict a scene from the Old or New Testament and even if I don’t pray to them? I have met people who say that having an image of Jesus is like having an image of the hindu god siva or vishnu or krishna. Should I then get rid of my Moses holding the ten commandments wallpaper? Should I then get rid of my Last Supper painting or my Nativity set? Should I then get rid of my cherubim ceramic? But those same people try to justify the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. Isn’t that a catch 22?

    • russellmckinney says:

      In Numbers 21:4-9 the Lord instructs the people of Israel to make a bronze serpent and look to it for healing from their bite wounds. As you pointed out, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant featured a cherub angel depiction on each end, with the tips of the angels’ wings coming together and touching over the top of the middle of the lid. Likewise, 1st Kings 7:23-39 tells us that in the courtyard of Solomon’s temple stood a huge circular bronze basin that held approximately 12,000 gallons of water. This basin stood on representations of twelve oxen (three oxen looking in each direction). These three examples show us that the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) doesn’t completely outlaw the use of any and all religious depictions. Obviously, the commandment is primarily meant as a prohibition against man-made false idols and graven images.

      However, with this understood, I’m always a little leery of Biblical pictures, paintings, statues, etc. because they create false images in our minds. For example, the average person today has a mental picture of Jesus that comes more from Renaissance artists than the Bible. Did Jesus have long hair? 1st Corinthians 11:14 suggests that He didn’t. Was He good looking? Isaiah 53:2 probably means that He wasn’t. Was He effeminate? That seems hard to believe considering that He was a carpenter who spent most of life outdoors and endured the worst beating the Romans could inflict upon Him before crucifying Him. You see my point. Frankly, I’m even a little cautious about watching Bible-based movies on the life of Jesus. How many such movies truly give an accurate portrayal of Him? Most likely none. So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t automatically say that God commands you to throw all of your “religious” depictions into the trash, but I would certainly limit the esteem in which I held them. Can God use religious artwork in His service? Yes. But is He pleased with all religious artwork? No.

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