Tuesday, December 16, 2008

why god breaks the second commandment

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” – Ex 20:4

This is commandment # dues. After “don’t have any other Gods,” this is the next commandment that God gives liberated Israel at Sinai. “Don’t make idols.” In other words, “Don’t make an image of me.”

To understand this commandment we need to understand Israel’s setting. Israel was surrounded by “other nations.” And these other nations did make idols – statues, carvings, and physical representations of the gods they believed in. The idols of the other nations gave shape and size and depth and visibility to their god. If anyone were to ask the other nations – “what is your god like?” – they’d hold up their statue and say the following: “Here’s my idol – the image of my god.” But the God of Israel isn’t like the other gods – “don’t do that Israel. Don’t make an idol for yourself.”

A lot of traditional people understand commandment # dues in terms of God’s incomprehensibility. In other words, God is so awesome, so holy, so “other” that to try and “image” God would be sinful. In other words, a lot of traditional people think that God doesn’t want to be imaged at all. I’m not feeling very traditional this morning.

That being said, God is awesome and holy and totally “other” than us. It would be easier for me to replicate Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel with a blindfold and a sharpie than it would be for me to image the God of Israel with a carving. BUT, I still think God wants to be imaged. In fact, I think that God’s desire to be imaged is the story of the Bible. Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were made to image God. And I know that God’s desire to be imaged is the story of Christmas. Jesus Christ was the perfect image of God – “the exact imprint of God’s very being” we’re told (Heb 1:3).

After all, people still want to know – “what is your God like?” The “other nations” still want an image of our God. And I think God wants to give them one. God wants to give them you. Me. His church. He wants us to give shape and size and depth and visibility to His character.

In other words, God doesn’t want us to make an image. He wants to make us His image.

FOR TODAY: Genesis tells us that God created us in “his image.” Another translation of the word idol is “graven image.” In other words, an idol is what happens when God’s image goes sour. It’s not that God doesn’t want to be imaged. It’s just that God wants His church to fulfill that role. And so give some thought to commandment # dues today. What does it mean to you? In other words, given your vocation to be God’s image, how do you shirk that responsibility by making graven images instead?

1 comment:

KAM said...

A most excellent post. Thanks, John.