Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, “I want to write a memoir about your life. In my biography of you, you are an Olympic athlete, you’re terrible at personal relationships, and you live with 25 birds and 10 fish.”
You respond, “Well, that’s interesting. But I’m not an athlete, I love being around people, and I’m more of a dog person.”
The man, though, won’t budge: “But this is how I desire to see you! You’re much more fascinating like this.”
How would you feel? You’d be offended.
It’s the same way with the God of the Bible. We can’t just remake Him into what we want Him to be. God is who He is, and is this why the Second Commandment is so important:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:4-5).
The truth is this: It doesn’t matter how we “want or like to see God,” God is who He is, and He gets to define Himself to us as shown in the Bible. Our job is to conform our preconceptions of God to His reality, and not vice versa. How we “want or like to see God” and how “we believe God should be” is utterly irrelevant. All that matters is what He’s really like.
People say that “their” God wouldn’t:
- Punish sinners in hell (Rev 20:11-15).
- Claim Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6).
We make God into what we want Him to be, rather than just believing Him for who He is. When we do this, not only do we get angry and disappointed, but we also rob ourselves of the joy of really knowing God.
From the Second Commandment, we learn at least three things about idols and false views of God:
1. Carved images spring from idolization.
The Israelites created carved images because they were scared. Frankly, they didn’t trust God, weren’t satisfied with Him, and felt like they needed something besides Him (or something more) to protect them.
Certainly, they made an image that mirrored God on some level. However, the whole attempt was to guarantee God’s protection. Their real idol was a need for guaranteed protection, and they thought they needed that more than they needed God.
That is the textbook answer for idolatry. You “carve out” an idol out of anything whenever you believe it so central to your life that you couldn’t be content and safe without it. So, you prioritize it or hold on to it over God and His Word.
Here are some common “carved idolatries” in America today:
- We must have more money and wealth to be happy, so we invent a “god” that will guarantee that to us.
- We want to understand ourselves as “decent people,” so we invent a “god” who is madder at other’s evils than He is at ours.
- We need to see punishment on our enemies, so we invent a “god” who dislikes our enemies and prefers us and our philosophy best.
- We really need domestic steadiness to be happy, so we invent a “god” who guarantees it!
2. Carved images misrepresent the actual biblical God.
In not seeing God for who He is, we end up seeing Him as our idolatrous, dysfunctional messed-up heart wants Him to be. God just becomes a reflection of ourselves and a reflection of our idolatry. Truthfully, your God may have elements of reality in it, but you’re not seeing the true picture.
Yet, the biblical God can’t ever be reduced to a stone figure or a single attribute. No, He is a being complete in all of His holiness, perfections, almighty in strength, fully just and infinitely loving, transcendent above the heavens, and also close and intimate in our hearts.
Friend, that’s the problem with a carved image of God. It shows you only one dimension of God—never all of Him—and that ends up distorting who God actually is.
For example, imagine you sketched an image of God. Would you draw Him laughing or scowling? If you drew Him laughing, you might capture His goodness but not His wrath and judgment against sin. But if you drew Him scowling, you might capture His wrath against sin, but you wouldn’t show His grace, love and forgiveness.
Christianity was unique among religions in the ancient world in that it was a religion of Word—the Bible. The secular world of the time was filled with big, impressive statues of gods.
After Jesus rose from the dead, His apostles didn’t run around the world building big glorious statues of Jesus or cathedrals that boasted His size. No, what the first Christians did is they went around preaching, because Christianity is a religion of Word—the preached word.
God discloses Himself in words because images and pictures can never contain Him.
At our church, now and then, someone will say, “Well, the pictures honestly help me worship God. In fact, they bring to mind God for me.” That’s because human nature loves to break the Second Commandment and twist God down into something you can manage, handle and control.
But, friend, if you want to know God, then you should think on Scripture, memorize Scripture, and meditate on Scripture. Even our worship is built around the Word.
3. Carved images create tainted behavior in our lives.
Authentic, strong spiritual growth comes from seeing and knowing God as He is. All of Him, not part of Him. If you only focus on one dimension of God, then you’ll grow in a deformed way.
For example, if your god is divine and just but not compassionate and gracious, then you are probably judgmental.
If your god is kind but not just and holy, then you tend to treat casually things that He abhors.
If your god is sovereign but not affectionate and concerned, then you become an angry Christian who argues continually about theology but rarely tells anyone about Jesus.
If your god is not fully sovereign (which means that He’s in control of even the miniscule details of your life), then you tend to get worried and stressed out when something goes wrong.
If your god is a god of uprightness but not the God who gave Himself for you on the cross, then when things go wrong in your life, you think that He’s angry at you.
If your god is not stunning and all-satisfying, you’ll find you serve Him lukewarmly (so you won’t go to hell). But you won’t desire Him with all your heart, and you’ll fight a lure to the sin of this world and its pleasures.
If your god is a god that promises wealth, then when things go wrong in your life, you’ll lose your faith.
What does this mean for you?
First, quit trying to playing the umpire on God and just let God be Himself. Indeed, you’ll find it is hugely satisfying,
Second, remember that we want clarification but God gives us revelation. If you would ever quit trying to control God like He’s a lucky talisman in your pocket, you’d find it would fill your life with so much more comfort!
Do you follow God for who He is in the Bible — or follow one of your own making?