The second commandment is to not make a graven image. It’s one of those commandments that we think doesn’t apply to us because who today would make a golden calf and bow down to it? Isaiah 44 makes fun of people who make idols. Isaiah says that some of the wood is made into an image and some of the same wood from the same piece is thrown into the fire and is used to cook the craftsman’s lunch.
Whenever I have heard a Christian teacher talk about idolatry they always emphasize the graven image part of idolatry. So they say things like “your car can be an idol”. I think they are missing the point. As I see it, the key characteristic of an idol is not that it is a thing like a graven image is a thing. An idol does not need to be tangible it only needs to be made. If you worship a god that you have made then you are an idolater whether that god is a tangible thing or not.
Notice how gods resemble the people who worship them. Do a study of the gods of various nations and people groups though history. You’ll notice that coincidentally the god that people worshiped was a reflection of the national culture: If a nation or tribe was warlike then their god was warlike, If the people were pastoral they tended to worship a god of fertility. Sub-groups of people often had their own god. Fishermen, for instance, tend to worship the moon because they know how the moon affects the sea. The Roman Catholic church syncreatically allows people to have patron saints to replace all of the various gods that people used to worship. I suppose that one explanation is that the various gods sent prophets to the various groups of people who were most like themselves. Or as seems more likely – people made up gods to be the way that they wanted them.
So are you an idolater? Does your god resemble you? The answer is probably yes. Probably in some way you have changed your image of God to make him more like you want him to be like. You may call it God but it is really a created thing that you worship and like the workman in Isaiah’s example, any thing you don’t like you take off and throw into the fire.
Don’t do that.
Are you of a conservative bent? – Think of the people who advocated Liberation Theology, there is no way you can squeeze revolution into the teachings of Christ. Yet people do. What they are really doing is taking their god of revolution and calling it Christ. It is not Christ; it is an idol.
Do you lean to the liberal side of the political spectrum? Think of people who believe a prosperity gospel. They do the same thing. They already have a god, which is mammon, so they paint it with some Christ paint and call it Christian. It is not. It’s an idol.
Now think of all the people who say ‘I could never believe in a god who does such and such”. In our culture the ‘such and such’ often relates to sending people to hell and a lot of times it has to do with sex. Homosexual marriage is a hot issue right now. In other cultures the such and such might be ‘became a man’ (the Gnostics) or ‘allows woman to teach’ (most traditional cultures) or ‘demands that I give up war’ (the barbarians that sacked Rome considered themselves Christians). Whenever people put conditions on their accepting of Jesus it means they already have a god. Since there is only one God, any other god is an idol.
Don’t do that.
Trying to make up in your head what God must be like is no better than Isaiah’s craftsman who carves his god. One is concrete and one is abstract but they are both created things. I have trouble believing that the idol worshippers really thought the lump of gold was a god. I think they thought that by making a beautiful or expensive image of their god their god would be pleased just like we (sometimes) think God is please by our building beautiful church buildings. I think they believed that the image represented in some way the characteristics of their god. When the craftsman made an idol that looked like an animal it was because that animal represented a particular characteristic, a bull might represent strength for instance. If the image was fierce looking it was because they believed their god was fierce. The craftsman wasn’t just carving an image; he was deciding what his god was like.
When God told people to not make a graven image he wasn’t just telling them to not make other gods. He was also telling them to not make graven images of HIM. He was telling them to not decide what he was like. It is not our place to say that God is strong like a bull or flies like an eagle or is like any other created thing.
Don’t do that.
Have faith in God, as he is. If you can’t have faith in God have faith in yourself but in a negative way. Ask yourself if you are all knowing and all seeing. Can you predict the future, see all ends? Do you always know just the right thing to say and do? This paragraph is quickly starting to sound like God talking to Job. The point is that if you are not all wise then any god you make up will be as flawed as you. As I’ve said before, humility is the key to everything including understanding God.
Have you ever heard anyone say ‘go with what you feel’? Don’t do that. It’s a pagan idea. I believe that God is trying to get us away from the flesh. I understand better than anyone how it feels to think that every opinion I have is slam dunk right. It is only my higher brain functions that tell me that there is no way that I can be right about everything. Don’t think that every opinion you have about God is right. Don’t be offended. Even the guys who wrote the Bible only had partial revelation. Jesus himself said that not everything was revealed to HIM. (the time of the second coming) If the Father didn’t reveal everything to Jesus we can be certain that he is not revealing everything to anyone else.