It’s quite possible that I will never be able to shake this song from the popular Christian children’s show VeggieTales out of my memory bank. The musical number was none other than “The Bunny Song” from the Rack, Shack & Benny episode. I mean this episode had everything! Crowd favorites Bob, Larry, and Junior were the main protagonists in the story. It had the obnoxiously hilarious giant chocolate bunny statue. The gripping flying scooter chase scene through the HVAC system of the Chocolate Factory had you sitting at the edge of your sofa while you sipped your Capri Sun.

But that song featuring the asparagus as backup singers has embedded itself so deeply within my brain that even now, 20-some years later it finds a way to come to the fore at the most random of times.

While washing dishes, showering, or sneaking a piece of chocolate I quietly mumble to myself… “The bunny, the bunny, oh I love the bunny…

Well, I’m almost 30 now, and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the Bible isn’t merely a book of children’s stories that can be adapted to suit adults, as some may presume. It’s much more a book for adults, that through media, like VeggieTales, can be adapted to suit children. Certain stories are more easily adapted than others and there are many stories that are often set aside altogether until children get to an appropriate age. But if we think VeggieTales, or similar Christian media for children, exhaust the depth of these stories we’re missing the profound potency of them.

Consider the story of “Rack”, “Shack” and “Benny”, which is a riff on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found in Daniel 3. They were three young men who were taken as exiles to Babylon after the capture of Jerusalem, where the Temple was shortly thereafter destroyed. They were no longer in their hometown, but found themselves within the heart of the Babylonian empire being trained to fill positions of great responsibility and service to King Nebuchadnezzar.

They were given new names. Trained to be important leaders and administrators within the empire. And after years of providing loyal service to the Babylonian Empire – with few conflicts beyond those due to remaining faithful to their religious dietary laws – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves confronted with a challenge. Would they bow down and worship the giant statue King Nebuchadnezzar had erected, or would they resist and face the threat of being thrown into the giant furnace the king had created for the disobedient?

It’s a familiar story. And one that we probably overlook since we know the ending so well. But this story has probably even more to say to us adults than any children’s adaptation could express to kids. That idolatry, despite being less overt, is still present even today.

what is idolatry?

It’s probably worth noting that the first and second commandments God gave the Israelites were orders against the worshipping of other gods and manufacturing of idols. I mean all ten commandments are clearly important, but for these to be listed as one and two, probably means something right?

But wasn’t idolatry the worship of others gods? Like when people bowed down for statues and created things instead of the God of Israel? Isn’t that something only those primitive and uncivilized people of the past did?

I think the problem is we tend to have a low resolution understanding of what these “gods” were back then. And just because we don’t refer to things as “gods” today doesn’t mean there aren’t equivalents to them.

Idolatry is so much easier to spot when viewing another culture from the outside. It is far more difficult to spot from within. It can be like the air we breathe. The water we swim in. While it might not be a golden statue like the one Nebuchadnezzar erected, our idols today promise similar things.

Yet they always fail to deliver on those promises. And therefore, it’s beneficial to us to see them for what they are before they ultimately let us down. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to spot idolatry in action today. Maybe they can help you as well.

That we can think no higher than

Whether it’s the grand utopian visions of a completely equitable society and the perfect political platform being implemented, the lowly carnal desires for our next “fix” or sexual encounter, or anywhere in between, we all have something to which we are aspiring. For some, those goals have never been achieved. They are lofty and seemingly unachievable. Always out of our reach. Yet for others the most salient desires are those that they have been conditioned to enjoy through previous encounters with them. Sex, drugs, the acquisition of wealth. For everyone, there is something that sits at the top of their hierarchy of values.

For King Nebuchadnezzar, the statue wasn’t erected simply to have people worship it. While there’s debate as to whether the image was that of one of the gods of Babylon or of the king himself, its safe to say there was a purpose behind it. Their religion was not mutually exclusive from their everyday lives and the success or failure of the empire. He was expecting something in return from the people worshiping it. Something that was of utmost importance to him and probably most in the Babylonian Empire.

Maybe that goal was unity. If you force everyone to worship the same thing with the threat of death, you have to a certain degree established a form of unity if everyone obliges. Maybe it was to worship a god in an effort to seek blessing upon their empire in the form of wartime success, fertility, health, fortuitous weather for crops, or material wealth. Whatever it was, they were willing to bow down and submit to it.

I’ve heard it said that idolatry is “that which we can think no higher than”, assuming that thing is not God himself. What are the ideals or values of which we can think no higher than?

Unity? Diversity? Equity? Freedom? Liberty? Kindness? Strength? Wealth? Power?

We may not have statues dedicated or godlike names given explicitly to these ideals today, but we have flags, posters, banners, and movements dedicated to them. Can we think of anything higher than these values? And are we willingly or reluctantly deciding to bow down and submit to any of these ideals?

WORSHIPING the gift

When in college, I accidentally stumbled upon an absolute gem of a book. I initially thought The Great Divorce was a book on marriage and decided to read it. Boy was I wrong, but it has become quite possibly the most influential book I’ve read in my life.

C.S. Lewis, in this wonderful novel, details the journey of a bus-full of travelers leaving their homes in hell to visit heaven. The story is told from the perspective of one of those travelers as he observes each of his fellow passengers have their own encounter with residents in heaven. One would think they would all find heaven to be blissful and alluring. But that’s not the case.

For each visitor, what keeps them from experiencing the fullness and grandeur of heaven were the “gifts” they had come to love. Knowledge, pride, material wealth, sex, kinship, and even marital relationships. Good things, heck many of them we would consider great things. But when they become the ultimate thing they keep people from experiencing the fullness of a relationship with God. When asked to give up these gifts in pursuit of God, they all fell away and preferred their residence in hell to a life in heaven. In essence, they were trying to enjoy the gifts without recognizing the Giver.

“The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver.”

Warren Wiersbe

Throughout the book, Lewis shows how in heaven, a proper appreciation for God redeems all of these gifts. Sex when corrupted may take the form of lust, but in it’s proper place can lead us to a greater understanding of the love that God is. That family relationships, when put in its proper place as a secondary to our relationship with God, can keep us from smothering our family members with existential burdens and unattainable expectations and allow those relationships to point us to a relational God. That knowledge, for the sake of accruing knowledge, may lead to conceit instead of pointing us to the transcendental.

What are the gifts we strive for? Can they bear the weight of all our expectations in this life? Or do they just get corrupted when we fail to acknowledge the God who gave them in the first place?

what i give up everything for

There are many things vying for our complete allegiance. Our jobs. Our families. Our schools. Our political parties. Our country. Our bank accounts. Our political movements. Our urges and temptations. Our churches.

The reality is there are no shortage of things to which we can be dedicating our lives. We all sacrifice ourselves for some thing or purpose. But what are they?

I would give up everything for fill in the blank. It’s probably a worthwhile question for all of us to ask ourselves from time to time.  It may just point out the idols we have today. 

we adults need reminders too

What is it that we can think no higher than? What gift in life do we treasure above everything else? And what is it I would be willing to give up everything for? Our answers to these questions are not necessarily bad things. But if whatever they are isn’t God, we are bound to corrupt them under the unbearable weight of our expectations. And they will fail to deliver what we seek from them.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worked for the benefit of the Babylonian empire, but when it was at odds with their desire to worship God and God alone, they did not submit. King Nebuchadnezzar sought unity, something that is not a terrible ideal, but when that becomes they only ideal to which we strive it becomes distorted.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had shown over several years a desire to serve the empire and see it prosper, were willing to disobey the order to bow in front of this image, even in the face of execution. They chose to be faithful to the One who rightly deserves our praise and utmost devotion. We must likewise discern what is good and worth participating in within our society, and be willing to not submit when they fall out of alliance with the God we serve. Even when it’s unpopular.

That being said, I do think this VeggieTales episode really points not just children, but us adults in a useful direction. Consider the lyrics to “The Bunny Song.” Although they are saturated with messages for kids like eating healthy food and avoiding sweets as one’s main sustenance, there is also very much a message the show creators are pointing at. Something deeper and more profound that we all need to aware of.

The bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don’t love my soup or my bread, just the bunny
The bunny, the bunny, yeah, I love the bunny
I gave everything that I had for the bunny
I don’t want no health food when it’s time to feed
A big bag o’ bunnies is all that I need
I don’t want no buddies to come out and play
I’ll sit on my sofa, eat bunnies all day
I won’t eat no beans, and I won’t eat tofu
That stuff is for sissies, but bunnies are cool!

I don’t want no pickles, I don’t want no honey
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want a tissue when my nose is runny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to tell you a joke that is funny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to play on a day that is sunny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny

The bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don’t love my soup or my bread, just the bunny
The bunny, the bunny, yeah, I love the bunny
I gave everything that I ha-a-a-ad…
For the bunny

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