In the second commandment, God directs us to not make idols – anything in the likeness from heaven, earth or the seas. When we hear the word idol, we probably make the association to figurines of stone or metal. We may think of Hindus as good examples of idolators with their millions of gods represented by colorfully carved statues in temples sprinkled across the Indian landscape. In our context, we may not worship imaginary gods, but idolize wealth, pleasure and power as ungodly desires of our heart. Yet, we rarely think of God Himself as our idol. God as our idol you ask? What does this mean?
Think of it this way. Many of us idolize people we see in the media. Whether its a beautiful movie star, an amazing athlete or someone in a position of power, we’d like to have a relationship with them. Our desire to befriend them is based on our knowledge of them from the two dimensions we see them in on our screen. Because we only see part of of their personality, the glamorized side, we assume that whole of the person is worthy of a relationship. We focus on the aspects of the celebrity that we deem desirable and minimize the undesirable characteristics of that person – unfaithfulness, addiction, self-centeredness and so forth.
This selective approach to a relationship is true of how we may engage with God as well. We often make Him what we want Him to be rather than accepting how He reveals Himself in His words and works. We make a god of our own liking (often in our own image and likeness) based on what we wish for (e.g., a genie awaiting our command) instead of seeking to understand who He says that He is. We are guilty of creating an idol when we incorrectly understand Him when we relate to Him in worship or prayer.
We do this by taking the characteristics of God that we find attractive and ignoring or rejecting the aspects that are troubling or difficult to understand. We cling to the idea that God is love, without understanding that God’s definition of love includes discipline. CS Lewis makes the point this way in The Problem of Pain:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, ‘a good time was had by all'”.
We avoid the idea that God’s love may also mean His punishment or His testing [like a good father would punish his children for disobeying or challenge them in areas of their life where they are not reaching their potential]. We neuter God, when we define His love as purely giving us what makes us what we think will make us happy.
In this regard, we often don’t accept God as the one who sends calamity (Isaiah 45:7). We avoid studying His justice or wrath. Instead, when disaster strikes, we begin to ask whether God is good or whether He is all powerful because our self-defined view of His love is shattered. We become the caricature artist and draw God as we wish that He looked – a big heart of love, no fist of wrath and a goofy smile as He overlooks our faults.
Beyond inflating the attributes of God that we approve of and minimizing or removing the attributes that we disapprove of, we make an idol by avoiding topics about Him that we can’t completely understand such as the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ. While we believe in both doctrines, we probably shy away from studying each because of their difficulty and therefore don’t understand the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit or Jesus as fully man and fully God in one person. Yet the relationship between the Father and the Son is impossible to escape in the Gospels and the co-existance of Jesus’ humanity and deity are seen throughout His life and further explained in the Epistles and Hebrews.
As Stephen Charnock, author of the most expansive work on the attributes of God, said, “‘It is impossible to honor God as we ought, unless we know Him as He is.” In what ways are you avoiding knowing Him as He is that you might fully worship Him in spirit and truth as He desires?