The Common Good

The Idolatry of Security (Part 1)

Last week at North Park Theological Seminary, we conducted our annual Scripture Symposium, which focuses on the theological interpretation of scripture. This year's topic was "The Idolatry of Security." The topic was actually picked years ahead of time, so the organizers had no idea how appropriate it would be in light of the economic meltdown of the last few weeks. I offer a few observations and reflections based upon the hard work of biblical and theological reflection that is occurring here on our seminary campus.

One of the presenters, Daniel Carroll of Denver Seminary, referred to the proper exegesis of Amos 7:7-8, the third in a series of pronouncements about imminent danger:

7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand.

8 And the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Amos?"

"A plumb line," I replied.

Then the Lord said, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. (NIV)

As Prof. Carroll explains:

The key term there is "anak," usually translated "plumb line." Recent studies, however, make clear that a more correct rendering is "tin." This translation conveys the self-deceiving ideology of Israel's defenses. From a distance, the walls of their fortresses might appear to be made of iron, a strong metal; surely, they could resist attack. In reality, however, they are but tin. Perhaps the meaning of the vision is that Yahweh has reached down and ripped out a piece of this fragile wall and thrown it in the midst of his people, as if to say, "This is nothing!"

Amos 7:7-8 reveals the fallen capacity of the people of God. We have the fallen capacity to trust in everything and anything but God. But God has the capacity to reveal our walls to be nothing more than tin. God reveals our idols, even the idol of security in all its forms: national security, economic security, military security, social security, securities and exchanges, and so forth.

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