An episode in the history of Israel has important implications for people of faith in today’s world. Israel’s army lost the battle of Aphek and suffered 4,000 casualties. In a desperate attempt to rally the troops and gain a tactical advantage, Israel’s leaders decided to send the Ark of the Covenant – yes, of Indiana Jones fame – into battle.
The result of this stunt was everything they hoped it would be, at least initially. Their own troops were emboldened, and their enemies intimidated. But that did not last. God would not let it. Whenever religion deteriorates into psychological manipulation, the real God is the first to leave the room. If the religious don’t go with him, they’ll need to learn how to get along without him. Religion of that sort does not bring blessing; it brings judgment.
The God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain cannot be kept in a box, not even the Ark of the Covenant. To treat God like a servant or a hobby does not merely dishonor him; it damages the faith of others, including the faith of children. This is happening all around America in our day and is one reason so many young adults have left the church. They can’t believe in a God-in-the-Box. They are right not to.
What happened in 10th century B.C. Israel has application to our lives in 21st century America. Parents who are people of faith must not give their children a God-in-the-Box. If they do, their children will not be people of faith when they are grown.
When our kids were small, we had a Jack-in-the-Box. We would turn the crank, the melody would play on and on until, suddenly, the jester popped out of the box. Our kids wanted us to turn the crank again and again, and it always surprised. But then they turned three, and Jack was no longer interesting. They outgrew him.
If you give your kids a God-in-the-Box, the same thing will happen. What is a God-in-the-Box like? He is powerless. If you don’t turn the crank, he doesn’t do anything. He’s safe to ignore. You can go weeks, months – years, even – without paying any attention to him but, should you want him, you can turn the crank and he will do your bidding.
Whenever parents treat God that way – ignore him for a while and only get back to him when he fits into their schedule – they are giving their children a God-in-the-Box. If those kids don’t discard him altogether when they’re grown, it will be because of nostalgia, not faith.
A God-in-the-Box can be controlled. When you need him, you just say the right prayers, give a decent amount of money, go to church, and wait for him to pop up. You just need to turn the crank the right number of times.
A God-in-the-Box is smaller than us. We can comprehend him. But the real God awes. He is unpredictable. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [his] ways higher than [our] ways and [his] thoughts than [our] thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Even his love is beyond anything we can imagine. Who among us would ever have predicted that the God who refused to be put in a box would allow himself to be nailed to a cross?
A God-in-the-Box gets called up to serve our cause. The true God calls us up to serve his. In America today, we see the God-in-the-Box conscripted for many causes – and some of them good. The number of abortions in the U.S. is appalling, as is the heartless greed that profits by it and the political ambition that protects it. But God is not a pawn in the fight against abortion or any other fight; he is king. He will not be exploited even in support of a just cause.
People try to use God to get their candidates elected, to change laws, motivate voters, and intimidate unbelievers. The Hophni’s and Phinehas’s of the world are still carrying their God-in-the-Box into battle, but that is a campaign doomed to fail. God will not be a tool for psychological manipulation. He is Lord of all.
(First published by Gannett.)