What Has Your Attention

What Has Your Attention? By Rebekka Hansel
If you know me at all, you know that fall is MY FAVORITE season. I love the cooler air, the colors, a cozy sweater, a cute pair of boots - and more than anything, all things pumpkin.

But right smack dab in the middle of my favorite time of year is this weird little holiday called Halloween. As I write this, today is October 31, and again….if you know me at all, you know that while fall is my favorite, Halloween makes me feel a certain kind of way.

There are lots of reasons for this, most of them rooted deep in my pentecostal/charismatic upbringing. But as I’ve settled into adulthood and parenthood, I’ve more or less landed where my own parents did, which is that we politely ignore the festivities whilst hiding in our basement with a good (non scary) movie and some popcorn. You know, just like Jesus would do….?

Surprisingly, the best summation of how I feel about Halloween can really be summed up in the words of Robert California, an obscure and eccentric character from the later seasons of NBC’s “The Office”. In a Halloween themed episode, he says (to the camera):

Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us? How dare we let it into our decision making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships? It’s funny isn’t it? We take a day a year to dress up in costumes and celebrate fear.

I always think about that quote during this time of year, because it really gets at the issue for me, which has very little to do with Halloween and quite a lot to do with the question that I think more of us should be asking ourselves. 

What are you afraid of?

As Christians, we understand, at least intellectually, that we shouldn’t be afraid. Many can quote verses to that effect. At least as many of us have heard that the command “Don’t be afraid/do not fear” is found 365 times in the Word of God….one time for each day of the year!

Of course, the reality is that what we know does not necessarily inform how we feel. Also, “fear” is a broad term, liberally applied to such things as public speaking, roller coasters, snakes and spiders, and heights. I would argue that one can be both strong and courageous and also decline to go on every rickety, questionable ride at the fair.

No, the fear that Scripture warns against goes deeper than just a reticence to give speeches or go on thrill rides. The fear we should be on guard against is the fear that, when allowed to fester and grow, leads to the sin that God warned Moses against in the first and second commandments. The sin of idolatry.

We see an initial example of this in Exodus 32, during the infamous golden calf incident. It’s easy to read or listen to this account and assume that the Israelites were in rebellion, mad at God, determined to have their own way, and hell bent on worshipping a graven image. That is partially true.

However, in verse 1, we gain some insight into what was motivating their desire to have a tangible idol to worship.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1, NIV)

You can almost hear the murmurs and whispers that must have preceded this. “Where’s Moses? Where did he go? He’s been gone such a long time! Do you think he’s dead? If he IS dead…..will God still be with us? How will we know? Who will we follow? Who will take care of us?” And on and on it went, I’m sure.

Fear is a powerful motivator. In the case of the Israelites, their fear of abandonment, their uncertainty on how to move forward, and their inability (or unwillingness) to call to mind the miracles they had recently witnessed as God mightily delivered them from Egypt, drove them to create a god of their own making.  A god they could “control”.

In fact, much of the idol worship in the Old Testament was born out of a desire to control. Rarely did people (the Israelites or others) worship their false gods out of love. Rather, their worship was driven by a desire to keep something from happening. That’s just fear by another name.

Of course now, we know better, don’t we? We would never build an idol and bow down to worship it. We also understand that an idol doesn’t have to be a tangible thing. We understand that an idol is anything that attempts to steal our affection away from our Creator. Rarely, though, do we guard against that which does not steal our affection, but instead steals our attention.

There is a rather obscure verse in the book of Jonah that I would honestly have overlooked, had it not been for a recent conversation that I had with my mother.

When Jonah is in the belly of the fish, as he cries out to God, he says the following:

Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. (Jonah 2:8, NIV)

The King James’ Version says it a different way:

They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

To “observe” or “cling to” a lying vanity or “worthless idol” is to consider, meditate on, or give credence to something that has set itself up against the truth of God’s Word. How many of us know what it’s like to ruminate on something? To chew on it, to revisit it over and over, to tend it until it grows and grows, until it’s the only thing that feels true?

So we’re back to the original question. What are you afraid of? Put another way….

What has your attention?

Fear wants to steal our focus, consume our thoughts, and drain our strength. Fear wants to be the main attraction. That’s what an idol does.

God’s way is the better way. God’s answer to fear is “I AM”. Our God, our Father, has commanded us not to fear, because His very nature cancels out anything we could possibly be afraid of in this world.

In this season where fear is momentarily celebrated, rejoice instead that we worship a God who is the answer to every question, who is the solution to every problem, and who is the only one worthy of our affection and attention.

1 Comment

Dawn - November 3rd, 2022 at 12:18pm