All humans who don’t know God are empty-headed by nature. In spite of the good things that can be seen, they were somehow unable to know the one who truly is. Though they were fascinated by what he had made, they were unable to recognize the maker of everything. Instead, they thought that all these things—fire or wind or quickly moving air or a constellation of stars or rippling water or the sky’s bright lights that govern the world—were all gods.

They should have known that all these things—which they took to be gods and delighted in—were much less beautiful than the one who rules them all. The creator of beauty itself created them. Those who fear the power and might of created things should know how much more powerful than these things is the one who fashioned them. These people could have perceived something of the one who created all things as they thought about the power and beauty of the things that were created. It is for this reason that they’re not without guilt.

Yet perhaps we shouldn’t blame them too much. They may have gone astray while they were looking for God, wanting to find him. They spend a lot of time exploring his works. Something about their appearance leads them to wonder, for the things that they see are indeed wonderful. Even so, these persons aren’t excused. After all, if they were indeed able to know so much that they could speculate about space and time, how is it that they weren’t able to discover the ruler of space and time more quickly?

10 How much more miserable, though, are those people who put their trust in things that are dead? These people call gods the works of human hands, objects of gold and silver that artisans practice on, artistic representations of animals, even worthless stones carved by someone long ago.

11 Imagine this. A woodcutter with some skill cuts down a pliable shrub. He carefully strips the outside covering of the plant and then, because he has some skill, shapes it into a tool for daily use. 12 Afterward he picks up the leftover bark that he had stripped away and uses it to cook a meal for himself. He eats his fill and 13 then picks up one of the leftover pieces of wood, one that wasn’t good for anything, a crooked hard piece with broken ends where the branches had been. Having nothing else to do, he takes this piece of wood and starts carving. By a process of trial and error, he’s finally able to give it a human shape, 14 or he fashions it into something that vaguely resembles some miserable creature. He covers it with red paint, giving it a rosy hue where the creature’s flesh is supposed to be. He covers over every flaw in the wood. 15 Finally, he makes a perfect little shrine for it and fastens the shrine securely to the wall with a nail 16 so that it doesn’t fall down. He knows full well that it can’t do anything for itself. After all, it’s only an image, and it requires help.

17 In time he begins to pray to it: for his possessions, for his marriage, for his children. He’s not ashamed to talk to this lifeless object. In fact, he begins to ask this fragile little creation to provide him with good health. 18 He begins to pray for his life to this lifeless object. He cries out for help to this thing that has no experience at all. He prays about a journey to a thing that can’t even take a single step. 19 He asks it for wealth, for profit in his work, and for success in all he sets his hands to do—all this from something whose hands are powerless to do anything.