War and Worship

This is my year of museums—of so many museums. If all goes according to plan, between January and December I will visit museums on every continent and in at least 15 different countries. In many of those places I will visit more than one. I’ve already been to so many that they are beginning to blur together in my memory and I’m having to dig out photos to distinguish them. But this remains clear: in almost every museum in almost every country there are two themes that remain constant: war and worship.

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In museum after museum and nation after nation, I see objects that tell of humanity’s obsession with war and and worship. Behind these two themes we see humanity’s never-ending attempt to destroy our relationship with our fellow man (that’s war) and to destroy our relationship with God (that’s worship).

In Auckland, New Zealand, the most prominent museum holds great collections related to the Maori, the inhabitants of the islands who pre-dated the Europeans. There I saw the terrible clubs they used to smash the heads of their victims and the vicious knives they used to slash them. Much of the nation’s history is brutal and bloody. Nearby were glass cases filled with their gods, images carved from wood with leering eyes and demented faces. Together they told of the Maori obsession with war and worship—their determination to obliterate their fellow man and to defy the one true God.

In Livingstone, Zambia I found a surprisingly good museum that tells the story of humanity in southern Africa. I did not need to go far into it before I encountered exhibits that displayed knives and spears and other tools of warfare and oppression. A few more steps led me to cases full of gods and other implements of false worship—charms and amulets, each of them an item meant to gain the favor of the spirits or to hold off their disfavor. If these exhibits are to be believed, the history of Zambia is also a history of war and worship, of seeking the destruction of God and of creatures made in the image of God.

In London, the tremendous British Museum displays giant reliefs taken from the Middle East that portray historical acts of shocking barbarism and careful allegiance to pagan deities. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has artifacts from the time of the Crusades when men waged “holy war” in the name of God (though their God was far removed from the one of Scripture and their actions were often no less horrific than those of the pagans they meant to supplant). And so it has gone across the world and through the ages. There has been war to destroy humanity and worship to supplant God.

Against this horrendous backdrop, a couple of facts stand out. First, where true believers have gone, they have almost invariably focused on bringing peace with God and man. There have been some spectacular failures, but in general the message has been one meant to unite a new humanity under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Second, the great and ultimate promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that all warfare and all false worship will eventually cease. This universal defiance against God and man will soon to give way to true, lasting peace. Together, war and worship can tell so much of the history of humanity. But only one will survive into that great, eternal future.