It’s a special meeting of AA, they are celebrating the sobriety of all of their members for some twenty years. As a symbol of their victory they give each member a bottle of Black Velvet bourbon and tell them to keep it as a reminder of what they have accomplished.
Does there seem to be something wrong with that picture?
I have the same reaction of “You have got to be kidding!” when I read Joshua 24:27
And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” (ESV)
Now memorials are not uncommon among the history of Israel. Jacob built a couple of them in Genesis 28:18ff and 31:45 as a “witness” to the agreement between himself and the Lord in one instance and himself and Laban in the other. Stones also play a role in the overall history of God’s people; a stone was placed under Moses arms during battle; a stone provided water for the people in the wilderness; it was a small stone that fell the mighty Goliath. So stones are not uncommon. Yet, I contend, that it is an unusual expression to say that a “stone has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you…” (Joshua 24:27)
In the midst of a people that have struggled their entire existence to refrain from serving other gods and idols built with hands, we are now seeing a stone that hears and becomes a witness to the ongoing faithfulness of the people of Israel. I don’t know about you but I have a pretty good idea of how that stone is going to be viewed.
I think this whole account goes to the mind-set of a people weighed down with a complicated devotion to Yahweh. Their culture is not an isolated culture, as much as they would like to think and the influence of “pagan” deities and the symbols of their “existence” often crushes the people of God. This kind of mixed message does nothing to clarify the matter.
We are often beleaguered by symbols that can draw our attention away from our devotion to God. I remember an experience where a Pastor was speaking on objects that become idols to us and he took his Bible and slammed it to the ground as a testimony that it is ONLY a book, not a symbol of worship. I thought the people were going to rise up and stone him on the spot. But he was right. Too often people make the book the object of their faith, not the God of the Book.
We are a visual people. It is hard for us to deal in the abstract. God is not concrete. He is not something you prove or conclude based on geometric principles. Science is infantile when it comes to demonstrating the existence of the eternal God. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves groping for symbols that we can associate with our belief that somehow make it more certain, more tangible. It can never be. I don’t care how many porcelain angels you have placed around your home, it will not make angels any more real.
Let us never think we can place a bottle of bourbon in front of an alcoholic and expect him or her to never focus on it as an object of desire. It will call out to that person.
Stones do not hear and stones can not bear testimony. It is GOD who hears and our faithfulness to Him that bears testimony of our covenant relationship to Him. HE is our rock of ages not the rock!