Can Idols Appreciate Offerings?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Hong Kong
WHEN entering a home here in Hong Kong it is not unusual to see an altar with food on it. Some persons offer to their idols a meal each day. It may be just a piece of fruit. But at times the offering is a complete banquet. The occasion may be that a relative is sick or has died, or that it is a special feast day.
The use of idols in worship is surprisingly widespread. Making of regular food offerings to them is common in Japan, Korea, India, Africa, South America and other places. The offerings vary considerably from place to place, depending on the customs and traditions that have been handed down from ancestors.
Here in Hong Kong one may easily come in contact with the practice. For example, one may visit a home, and the host, wishing to be hospitable, may remove food from the altar and offer it to a visitor. If one should hesitate, the host may assure: “It’s all right. The fruit is very fresh; I just bought it this morning.”
What would you do? Would you consider it in conflict with your religious principles to eat the food? Why is the food offered to the idol in the first place? When and where did the practice originate?
An Old Practice
The use of idols in worship is not new. In fact, there is evidence that in ancient Mesopotamia about four thousand years ago idol worship, with accompanying offerings of food, was already being practiced. The belief was that the real or supposed higher power represented by the idol would take pleasure in the food offered. It was believed that the god entered the idol so that the idol itself became the ‘body of the god.’
Such beliefs continue to this day. But perhaps the majority of persons give little thought to why they offer food to idols. If an idol worshiper here were asked why he follows this custom, a typical answer might be: “I am only doing what I can remember my parents used to do, but I am not really sure what it all means.”
There are no clearly defined regulations to govern the making of offerings. And since this is so, is it not likely that over the generations of verbal transmission certain details have been lost? Is it not even possible that the offerings have varied greatly over the hundreds and thousands of years? The facts of history show this has occurred.
Background of Offerings to Idols
It used to be that human victims were offered to gods. Regarding this practice The Encyclopædia Britannica observed: “Sacrifices, especially of human beings, are offered immediately after a death or at a longer interval. Their object may be . . . to strengthen the dead by the blood or life of a living being, in the same way that food is offered to them.”*
In ancient China it was the practice to offer as sacrifices to their idol gods captured enemies. The worshipers believed that such human offerings were necessary to appease their gods. But this practice was not limited to China. The above-quoted encyclopedia notes:
“Human sacrifices were known in ancient India and survived till late in the 19th century; both Greeks and Romans practised them, no less than the wilder races of ancient Europe. Semites and Egyptians, Peruvians and Aztecs, slew human victims; Africa, especially the West Coast, till recently saw thousands of human victims perish annually; in Polynesia, Tahiti and Fiji were great centres of the rite—in fact, it is not easy to name an area where it has not been known.”
The ruling dynasty of China outlawed human sacrifices long ago. Thus the practice here has become to offer only food or incense to an idol. But one may ask, If human offerings were required by idol gods in ancient times, why not now? Did the idols’ desires or needs change when a ruler outlawed human sacrifices? Is an idol actually capable of feelings or desires? Do you think idols can really appreciate offerings?
Able to Show Appreciation?
It is obvious that idols do not eat the food given them, since the food may later be eaten by the worshiper or others. Some say that the idol god does not eat because it already has the necessities of life, but the claim is that the idol appreciates the thought and devotion of the worshiper. Yet how is this appreciation shown?
An idol is usually bought from a shop, perhaps only a few doors from one’s home. Do you believe that a god enters the idol when it is brought into one’s house? If so, why does the god not show appreciation for the worshiper’s devotion by consuming some of the food, or by some other action?
Is it not obvious that an idol is incapable of doing anything, that it is just like any other piece of wood or metal except for having a different form? Long ago this observation was made in the Holy Scriptures about an idol worshiper who cut down a tree: “He takes part of it that he may warm himself. . . . Half of it he actually burns up in a fire. Upon half of it he roasts well the flesh that he eats, and he becomes satisfied. He also warms himself and says: ‘Aha! I have warmed myself. I have seen the firelight.’ But the remainder of it he actually makes into a god itself, into his carved image. He prostrates himself to it and bows down and prays to it and says: ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’”—Isa. 44:15-17.
Is it not useless to look to a piece of wood or metal as God? How can it appreciate offerings made to it? As the Scriptures also explain: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of the hands of earthling man. A mouth they have, but they cannot speak; eyes they have, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear. A nose they have, but they cannot smell. Hands are theirs, but they cannot feel. Feet are theirs, but they cannot walk; they utter no sound with their throat.”—Ps. 115:4-7.
The fact is, idols are useless in helping a person. They are lifeless. So why put one’s trust in them? They cannot appreciate one’s offerings, nor can they bring one benefit.
Who Can Show Appreciation?
If you saw a beautiful ivory carving intricately cut and designed, to whom would you give credit? To the carving or to the carver? Who could appreciate your words of praise? It would be the carver, would it not?
Regardless of the material from which an idol is made, the material did not create itself. Neither did the one who made the image create the material. Rather, all matter here on earth must have originated from an all-wise Creator who gave the earth boundless beauty and variety. So what do you think we should worship—that which is created or the Creator?
The wise thing is to worship the Creator, whose name the Scriptures tell us is Jehovah. (Ps. 83:18) The Scriptures explain what offerings please Him, saying: “Always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Jehovah God appreciates these fine offerings, and to those who make them he promises the reward of “salvation,” yes, eternal life. How wise it is, therefore, to worship Jehovah!—Heb. 13:15, 16; 6:9-12.
Attitude Toward Offerings to Idols
What, though, if you were visiting a person who, to show you hospitality, took food from an idol altar and offered it to you? Would it be wrong to eat it?
In the first century it was a custom for idol worshipers to eat foods offered to idols with a feeling of reverence for the idol. When eating, the worshiper became a sharer with the demon god represented by the idol. (1 Cor. 10:18-22) So the counsel to Christians was “to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols.” It would be wrong for a worshiper of Jehovah to eat food offered to an idol with the idea of sharing in worship of the idol.—Acts 15:28, 29.
However, some person might take some food from an altar and offer it to guests to eat with no thought of the idol or its worship. Would that be any different? Regarding such a situation, the Scriptures observe: “Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one.” So “if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. But keep watching that this authority of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak.”—1 Cor. 8:4-13.
Thus, while it would not be wrong under such circumstances to eat the food, the question of how one’s eating would affect others needs to be considered. A Christian would never want anyone to think that he was sharing in worship of an idol. Therefore he may wisely refrain from eating to avoid giving a wrong impression, and perhaps stumbling someone.—1 Cor. 10:25-29.
Worship of lifeless idols can never bring one benefit. They are without thought or feelings, and so cannot appreciate offerings made to them. How fine it is, though, that there is a living God, Jehovah, who truly appreciates our offerings, and who “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him”!—Heb. 11:6.
Eleventh Edition, Vol. 23, pages 983 and 984.