“No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God” Exodus 20:4–5 (MSG) (Big Ten Series)
I asked Michaela what she thought God looked like. I thought I knew what the answer would be, based on what I used to think God looked like. I expected her to give me a description of an old man with a long white beard in big flowing robes… actually, I was pretty sure my little Harry Potter fan would end up describing Dumbledore, the wise and mysterious headmaster from the series. But she surprised me. After thinking about it for a moment, she said, “I think God looks like a star bigger than the sun.”
What about you? What do you think God looks like? There! Right there. That image you just created in your mind is an idol. A graven image. A breaking of the second commandment. Sorry. But I made you break it to prove a point. Sometimes the sin of idolatry is that easy.
The second commandment isn’t about other gods but rather about YHWH, the God we love and serve. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments, Aaron and the Israelites were at the base of the mountain getting nervous. After not hearing from God or Moses in a while, they decided to melt a bunch of the gold they had looted from the Egyptians and cast it into the form of a calf. For them, this was a representation of Yahweh; it was comforting to have a visible physical symbol that God was still with them. To Yahweh, however, that calf was an idol, an inaccurate and inadequate representation of God — so inadequate that to enter into worship of Yahweh thinking that was what Yahweh looks like would be the same as not worshiping Yahweh at all. It would be the same as having a different god all together.
God is so much more than we could imagine or comprehend that, when we try to give form to this divinity, all we do is create a grotesque and perverted idol that stopped being anything like God the moment the image formed. That’s why I liked Michaela’s answer so much: God is light, light bigger than the biggest light she knows, always expanding and reaching out into the darkness. But even that image, as helpful and biblical as it is, even that image can be an idol, getting in the way of our relationship with God.
So how do we avoid idolatry? I hear you. It seems a difficult thing, because as human beings, we relate best to what we can experience through our senses. The key to this, I believe, is in the word “carved.” When we carve something, we make it fixed, permanent, unchanging. And when we do that with the image of God, we fix an aberrant image in our minds of who God is. It is okay then to hold an image for a moment, to use images as tools that help us relate to the vastness that is God. But we cannot keep that image forever. We cannot carve it into our hearts as though that image contains all that God is — because when we do that, we have created an idol. We have decided God’s dimensions. We have limited God to the confines of our imaginations which are woefully inadequate to contain all of who and what God is.
So what do you think God looks like? Is that image carved in stone or wood in your mind? Is it cast in precious metals? Throw them all in the fiery furnace of your mind. Let them melt away. And embrace the truth that our God is too big to be contained in any image we can create. Free yourself from the carved and graven images that will only disappoint us, and lean into the mystery of a God beyond all imagination.
Abandoning my idols,