The Plastic Bowl of Power
Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Genesis 31:19
Recently, at our jail Bible study, one of the guys mentioned the source of an ongoing conflict – a plastic bowl. The inmates have access to a vending machine with microwavable rice and noodles, but to cook anything in more than a single serving, they require a larger container. Apparently, there is only one such container in the pod – a plastic bowl – owned by one inmate who got it from another inmate who passed it down when he was released. Whoever owns the bowl wields the power of the bowl. If you’re in the good graces of the bowl’s owner, you have access to the bowl. Offend the bowl’s owner though, and you lose bowl privileges. In jail, this bowl is profoundly important, a prized possession, and to its owner, its loss would be catastrophic. A bowl can be easily taken away though. For instance, if the bowl conflict becomes disruptive, a correctional officer could simply confiscate it.
It seems absurd – placing such a disproportionate amount of value on such a mundane item – but I’ve got things in my life upon which I’ve placed a similarly inappropriate value. I like my stuff – my boat, my truck, my house. The problem is that when I depend on such fragile items for my joy and meaning, I’ve placed my hope on things that can be easily lost.
Today’s passage provides an example of one such fragile idol. In the story, Jacob and his family secreted themselves away from Jacob’s uncle Laban. As they left, Jacob’s wife Rachel, stole Laban’s gods – a collection of small family idols. Upset that they snuck away, Laban pursued and caught up with Jacob’s family, expressing his displeasure – Why did you steal my gods (Genesis 31:30)? Rachel hid these idols under her camel’s saddle, later using the excuse of her menstruation not to climb off her saddle.
It’s almost laughable. What kind of god can be stolen and hidden under a saddle? The answer is obvious – God cannot be stolen or hidden. Still, I often find myself placing my joy, purpose and meaning in things that I will likely lose someday. Even good things, like family, career, and friendships, can become my idols. The problem is that no thing or person, not even my wife, can bear the burden of being responsible for my joy, purpose, and meaning. Only God can bear that weight. God created me to find my life only in him and it’s only when I seek life in that relationship that I can have appropriate relationships with everyone and everything around me. I can have a family, boat, or even a plastic bowl. Those things aren’t wrong. I go wrong when I make those things my god, trying to find my ultimate satisfaction in them.