I’ve been preaching my way through the Ten Commandments. The first two speak to issues of idolatry; the first commandment prohibits worshiping false gods, while the second prohibits representing the true God in a false way. Allow me to say more about the second commandment. The text reads: “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex 20:4, NRSV). To “make” something implies that the maker is the one in control. The potter makes the clay into whatever the potter desires. So, it is when we “make” an image of God; we “make” God into whatever we want God to be. More often than not, our “image” of God is really an image of ourselves.
We want God to be like us. We want God to love like us, think like us, vote like us, and yes, even to hate like us. Presbyterian author Anne Lamott says, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” To create God in our image, is to create an idol. Yet, there’s a problem, a real problem: idols make promises that they cannot deliver. The psalmist beautifully expressed this idea: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats” (Psalm 115: 4-7). To summarize: our idols look the part, but they are never able to fill the role. Idols not only make empty promises; they also make empty people. To have God on our terms through idols, is to end up with an empty heart and an empty life. The Psalmist says: “Those who make [idols], are like [idols]” (Ps. 115:8).
Having God like us on our terms, on the one hand, leads to emptiness. Having God like us on God’s own terms, on the other hand, is to have salvation. The good news of the gospel is that God is like us, yet not on our terms but on his. Paul’s letter to the Colossians says that “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.” In Christ, God became like us so that we could be truly like him, living and showing forth his image. That’s what salvation is all about.
Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.