Summary: The commandment against idolatry is "good news". It was not given because God enjoyed saying, "You can’t do this" and "you can’t do that either". The commandment against idol worship is at the top of the list after worshipping God because idols are counte
By Rev Bill Stewart
[Marilyn] "Paula, do you think there’s a God?"
[Paula] "Of course, there’s a God. What do you think I’ve been on about all these years? God is in everything and everything is in God. You are God, darling, if only you could see it and understand it."
[Marilyn] "No, I’m not God and I don’t want to be God. My life’s a disaster area—if I’m God then there’s no hope for any of us. I’m sick of all this, Paula. I want a God who is different from me, who is not me, who is somehow better than me."
[Paula] "Well if that’s the God you want, then that’s the God you’ll get."
[Marilyn] "That’s no help to me at all. I don’t want a God I’ve created, for Christ’s sake. I’m talking about a real God who is alive separately from me. Someone I can talk to and who might think differently from me. Is that too much to ask for?"
(from Mike Riddell’s book email@example.com, 1997, pages 131-133)
1. Australian idol?
Were you surprised when Christian performers seemed to have no problem competing in a show called Australian idol? Are Christians now so unconcerned about idolatry, or so unaware of our idolatry that being called an "idol" does not seem to bother us at all? Was God’s commandment ambiguous? Was it just a piece of friendly advice – take it or leave it, whatever you please? "That colour doesn’t suit you darling!" The second commandment says:
"4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."
I don’t know about you but I find it very hard to read that commandment without thinking there would be something very wrong with me being called an Australian idol or an American idol or any other kind of idol. Would you feel comfortable with that? Thankfully, I don’t have the vocal talent to ever find myself in that particular situation. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a problem with idolatry. But where does the danger of idolatry lie for me? for all of us? And how do I avoid, how does each one of us avoid the temptation to worship false gods? Gods we have made for ourselves to set up in the place of the real, living God. Augustine, one of the great teachers of the early church taught that idolatry means either "worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped" (quoted in Smith 2006, p. 31).
2. Worshiping what should be used
As today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 44, makes clear, the "idols" made in the world of the Bible were made from metal or stone or wood. People made them with their own hands before worshipping them. That is why in the King James Version they are called "graven images". They were made to be visible representations of invisible gods, like this statute from Syria of the goddess called "Asherah" in the Bible. But, as Chris pointed out in last week’s sermon, it is impossible for us to make a visible representation of God that doesn’t in fact distort our understanding of God – to make God more like us and less like God, or not like God at all!