It was not long after the flood in the days of Noah that man turned his heart inward with pride. Genesis 11 records the story of the building of the “tower whose top is in the heavens” (v4). The purpose of the tower was to make a name for themselves. Could the story of the flood have driven the arrogance of man to do something greater than their fathers had told them? What purpose would be served to make a name for themselves? Who would they brag too? It is the proud nature of man to make something larger than himself to exalt his own image above his world. The tower in Shinar was not completed as the Lord confused the language and the people scattered “abroad over the face of all the earth” (v9).
The desire to build the tower of Babel continues today. How tall can man build a building? As of 2013 the tallest man-made structure in the world stands a dizzying 2,722 feet in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Skyscrapers fill the skyline of many cities in the world. And no greater example of the wisdom of man exalting his own wisdom is the building of statues honoring the gods of men. The Spring Temple Buddha is a statue depicting Vairocana Buddha located in the Zhaocun township of Lushan County, Henan, China. At 420 feet, which includes a 66 foot lotus throne, it is the tallest statue in the world. By comparison the Statue of Liberty is only 305 feet. Of the fifteen tallest statues in the world, eight resemble one form or another of Buddha. Located in China (5), Myanmar, Japan and Thailand these statues are the totems of the folly of man.
No one can deny the beauty of these statues from an aesthetic view. The sadness of what these statues represent is found in Isaiah’s account of man’s folly to build idols. “Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together” (Isaiah 44:9-11). In 2011 an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. Located in Sendai City the Sendai Dai Kannon Temple is home to the 328 foot-tall Daikannon statue. The statue did nothing to protect or help the people as Isaiah says, “A deceived heart has turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:20).
Buddha did not build his statue. The folly of idol worship is that man creates his own god and bows down to it seeking deliverance (Isaiah 44:17). “They do not know nor understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood’” (Isaiah 44:18-19)? The real abomination of idol worship is man using the natural resources of God’s creation to form a god of his own from rock, metal, stone and wood. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). Michel de Montaigne wrote, “Oh senseless man, who cannot possibly make a worm, and yet will make gods by dozens” (Essays, Bk. 2, ch. 12, 1580).
It may be easy for a Christian to view Buddhism with great skepticism because there is no 420 foot image to bow down to. The idols of men are not always carved of wood and stone. They find themselves rooted deep in the hearts of those who worship other things before the Lord. The problem with idol worship has always been when we put anything before God. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve failed to honor God when challenged by Satan. The temptation began with “Has God indeed said” (Genesis 3:1)? That is the root of idol worship. The deception of woman and the subsequent failure of Adam to abide by the authority of God lowered the Creator to a subservient position. When God told them they could eat of every tree but the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17) He wanted them to worship Him first.
In the Law of Moses Jehovah clearly stated the need to worship Him first. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:2-5). Israel would later be punished by God through the Assyrians and Babylonians because of their idol worship. Jesus reinforced the sovereignty of God when He said, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). Idol worship comes when we allow our minds and hearts to serve ourselves and not God.
A carnal mind is building a Buddha in our lives to fall down to. The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7). Refusing to yield to the will of God is exalting the wisdom of man above God. As falling down to a wooden idol is foolishness so is refusing to subject our lives to God’s will. Idol worship is where we find our dependence. The pursuit of money can be an idol. Lust of the flesh can drive our needs to worship pleasure. Fame and popularity focus our lives upon the here and now. Living for today and all of its gusto is nothing more than bowing our spirits to a temporary world of deceit. What idol delivers men in death? Why do we believe that our riches and prosperity will deliver us? None will save us but the one true God and Lord. He is not worshipped by men’s hands (Acts 17:24-31). Nothing man can build will match the grandeur of the power of God. As God said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).
All the towers of Babel built by man will come to nothing. The world is held together by the word of God and at His word the world and all that is in it will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:5-12). The word of God endures forever (Psalm 119:89). Where does your heart rest and to whom will you give your life to honor and glorify?