Beautiful but Meaningless

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11)

oz_the_great_and_powerful_movie

I finally sat down last weekend and got to watch “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Now, before I give my thoughts, I think it would be helpful for me to share my background.  I am from Kansas, the “Land of Ahs” as the old Kansas Tourism Ad used to say.  I’ve been to Liberal, KS and walked the Yellow Brick Road.  Every time someone learns I’m from Kansas, I expect to hear the obligatory, “Well you’re not in Kanas anymore,” or some question about my dog Toto.  I’ve even performed in “The Wizard of Oz” as the Tin Man.

That being said, I really don’t like the show.  I read the book as a child and watched the movie countless times.  There’s nothing wrong with it all, it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Still, sitting down to watch “Oz the Great and Powerful” I think my expectations were set a little too high.  Here we are in the 21st century, with the technology and the creativity to really do a story well, and to do the Land of Oz justice, and to tell a compelling story of how this con-man wizard came to be the Great and Powerful Oz (with Sam Raimi, the man responsible for kick starting the Spiderman movies and the current comic craze in theaters), and all I’m left with is “meh.”

The movie is visually stunning.  There are some elements that are simply breathtaking.  The costumes and make up are incredible.  Even the characters are portrayed well.  But none of this could cover up the greatest missing element of the movie – a good story.  My thirteen year old, thirty minutes into the show wondered aloud, “Is there ever going to be a plot?”  For two hours I waited with baited breath for something incredible to happen, and then “The End” appeared on the screen, and I was left disappointed and wanting something more.  As beautiful a movie as it was, it had no substance, and could not satisfy.

It is interesting that my Scripture reading for the last few days has brought me to Isaiah 44, an incredible indictment against the folly of idolatry.  Isaiah writes, “A man cuts down cedars… it becomes fuel for a man.  He takes part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread.  Half of it he burns in the fire.  Over half of it he eats mean; he roasts it and is satisfied… and the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down and worships it.  He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa 44:14-17).

full-pre-columbian-gold-figure-costa-ricaWhen I was on a High School Mission Trip to Costa Rica (a long, long time ago) I visited the National Gold Museum, a fascinating museum filled with ancient golden artifacts.  In the massive vault there were hundreds of little gold frogs and other tribal fertility gods that would have been coveted possessions to be worshiped and adored.  Visually, they were stunning.  Practically, they were meaningless.

What could the people expect from such a “god” that had been created by their own hands?  They are truly beautiful, but they have no substance, and they cannot satisfy.

The same could be said for the numerous “gods” we bow our heads to even today; success, wealth, popularity, beauty, achievement, fame.  There are the false images of the One true God that we create for ourselves – dropping the things about God that are difficult to accept, the standard of holiness and righteousness that God expects of His creation – until we have made god in our own image, just to him a little easier to get along with.  As beautiful and attractive this version of god may be, like a stunning movie without a plot, like a golden toad sitting on your mantle, it will always leave you wanting more.

The story matters.  The words of the story have power, they give depth and meaning, and are able to transform us.  The proverb above reminds us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  We find our hope, our salvation, our life in the gospel story, in the story of Jesus Christ the very Word of God.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news” so Isaiah says.  How beautiful the story of the gospel, and how powerful to save.

SDG

Nevertheless…

“Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away.
The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.”

(2 Kings 15:4)

My Bible reading plan (I am using M’Cheyne’s plan, which has you read all of the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice over the course of one year) has me reading through the book of 2 Kings right now.  I am always fascinated by the records of the kings, and there is always something new to discover there.  Be it the succession of notoriously bad kings in the Northern kingdom of Israel, who continually led their people astray by requiring they worship the golden calves at Bethel, or the turmoil of inconsistent leadership in the Southern kingdom of Judah, the stories of the kings hold so much wisdom and truth for us today.  The only thing that each king had in common with the kings that went before: they all died and someone else reigned in their place.

One of the things that caught my attention in this reading of the kings was the heritage that was left from one king to the next.  With every king from the north we are told that “So-and-so did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done…”  Sometimes the indictment is even worse, as with Ahab, of whom it is said, “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.  He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Ball, which he built in Samaria.  And Ahab made an Asherah.  Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:31-33).  No matter how strong the economy might have been under the reign of the king, no matter the what his public opinion poll might have said, because the kings of Israel continued in the sin of Jeroboam – worshiping the golden calves – the legacy they left to the next generation was one of sin and corruption.

But that’s not to say that the southern kings did a whole lot better.  True, a majority of the southern kings, we are told, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 14:3).  Some kings made foolish allegiances with surrounding nations, leading the people of Judah astray and into oppression.  But the kings of the south had a heritage of worship in the Temple of the Lord and they ushered in periods of religious and political reform according to the word of God.

And yet…

With just about every king of Judah, even though we read that they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, there always seems to be a caveat.  We keep coming back to the word “Nevertheless.”  Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away…  While the national religion was still practiced in the Jerusalem Temple, the people still had their own private altars, and the faith of the nation was not kept pure.  The legacy of the southern kings was one of obedience and walking with the Lord, yet not in a wholehearted way.

And do you know what happened to both the northern and southern kingdoms?  They were both destroyed, carried away by conquering kingdoms, and the people were scattered.  The legacy of the kings, while greatly different, each led to the same end.

So here’s something to think about:  What legacy are you leaving the next generation?  Have you lived a life of wholehearted faithfulness to the Lord, or are there things in your life that you know don’t belong, but you lack the strength to remove them.  What are the high places that need to come down, so that your worship of God may be pure, and your heart undivided before the Lord.  What are the pressures and powers of this world to which you still bow down, when there is only one name in heaven and on earth for which our heads should bow?

When your life is gone and your story is told, will there be a “nevertheless”?  He was a really nice guy, but…

My hope and prayer is that the stories of the kings, if nothing else, will remind us of our need to cast out the idols that this world offers, and to cling wholeheartedly to our savior Jesus Christ!

Now that’s a legacy worth leaving.

SDG