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Week 3: The Second Commandment

Often without realizing it, every culture quietly shapes and molds their view of God. Yet spiritual growth is contingent upon relating to (and worshipping) God as He really isas He has revealed Himself. Otherwise, we end up with a god of our own imagination. The 2nd Commandment is concerned about how we use our imagination when we worship.

Our imaginations are a gift from God. If we go back to the creation account in Genesis 1, we see an image of God as the Creator God. Eight times in Genesis 1 we see the verb “create.” God “as creator” is the first thing that we learn about God in the Bible. And the first thing that we learn about humanity is that God has created us in His image. As such, God bestows upon us a God-given ability to create. Every time we create something, we are displaying the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Our use of our creative talents begins with our imagination, and our imagination works by means of “images.” Imaginations are good, but when it comes to our understanding of God and worship, the 2nd Commandment shows us that God wants our imagination of Him to be shaped by Scripture. He wants us to be careful not to come up with a novel idea of what God is like. This is because God has revealed the way He truly is in Scripture. So the 2nd Commandment affirms that only God can make an image of Himself. And, when reading the Bible, the image of God that emerges is that God is: Holy, Just, Good, Righteous, Loving, Merciful, Omniscient and Omnipotent.

Note that this is not a prohibition against using our imagination to create things or to make art. The Bible is full of examples of art. Solomon’s temple was ornate and decorated with beautiful carvings of pomegranates (1 King 7:18), bulls, cherubim, lions, palm trees and so on.

God wants us to make good art. Yet what the 2nd Commandment is really concerned about is our attention. God wants our imagination to be captured by Him.

When Moses gives the 10 Commandments, God’s people have just left Egypt. In Egypt, there were all sorts of deities. It was common for these deities to be carved into stone and for the people to worship them. These are often referred to as “idols.” This is the context of the 2nd Commandment. You see, God is instructing His people to be different. Unlike other peoples in the Ancient Near East, the Israelites were commanded by God not to make or worship visual representations of God.

Of course, it’s not long before we see an explicit violation of this command in Exodus 32.

There might be a tendency to think that we don’t worship idols today, but Tim Keller argues that idols are very much alive in modern culture. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller defines an “idol” as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”[1]

Keller explains “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”[2] These idols are typically not physical objects, but rather things like money, sex, power, moral rectitude, success, sports or political activism. Yet the reality is that each of these idols are ultimately unsatisfying. Each promises to bring us fulfilment, but each fails to do so. That’s because only Jesus can give us lasting fulfilment. In Jesus, we have the fullness of God. St. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:9, “In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” And it is through our worship of Jesus that we find an antidote to the idols of our hearts.

At the heart of the Ten Commandments is the establishment of a special, intimate relationship between God and His people. As God’s people, we are His “treasured possession,” a “priestly kingdom” and a “holy nation.” (Exodus 19) We are called, therefore, to be a people different from other people. Part of what makes Christians unique is that their imaginations are captivated by God. This is our calling.

Questions for Reflection
  • How do you use your creative gifts: art, cooking, problem solving, entrepreneurship, caring for others, etc.?
  • Read Exodus 32. How did God’s people break the 2nd Commandment? How did God respond?
  • What captures your imagination?
  • What does Colossians 1:15-20 imply about how Jesus fulfils the second commandments and what having our imaginations formed by God might look like?
  • In John 4:21-24, Jesus says worship is about spirit and truth, not a place. Physical markers of faith (buildings, icons and religious items) are helpful, but they point to what’s important rather than being important themselves. Why do you think people sometimes make these markers of faith more important than God Himself?
  • What would it look like in your life to worship only God as revealed in Jesus and to put all and any other things second? How might that bring you freedom?

A Prayer for the Week
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the goodness of Your Creation and that You are the Creator over all. Forgive us where we invest too much of our passions in things physical or things that distract us from You. Give us the strength to turn back to You, as revealed in the image of Your Son and by Your grace captivate our hearts and imaginations by Your Spirit once again. In Jesus’ name, amen.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, page xvii.
[2] Ibid.