When I started to think through this week, my initial instinct was to continue on a narration of Haiti and how vodou is actually a combination of gods that are lower than the big God of the universe. I figured I would have plenty of fodder to talk about and tie in with a statement in regards to a command against idols. Vodou takes the Catholic religion and then mixes in ingredients from different African religions. Think of it sort of like a gumbo religion. It’s Catholicism with a ingredients that are varying degrees of creepy. With all the images and idols Vodou felt like an easy target for a study on having no idols.
The problem was that I was confusing commandment #1: No other gods with commandment #2 “No graven images”. Haitian Vodou definitely comes up with some doozies as it relates to worshiping other gods. When it comes to creating a graven image of God, Americans are in a class all by our selves.
The confusion is easy because the word is also translated idols and we get those confused with gods. The fact is that they are two completely separate commandments that are at once mutually exclusive and yet (like all 10 of them) completely intertwined. Much like a chain with 10 links.
The first commandment is a warning against worshipping other gods. We talked about it last week at Conduit but simply put it’s a command against replacing the true God with false gods. The second commandment is a warning against worshipping the true God falsely.
Throughout history man has wondered what God is like. What does He look like, act like, talk like. The desire is to capture an essence of Him, and looking to, among other things, nature to create an image of what He is like. Thus the reason the American Indian would put an eagle on top of their totem poles, or the Polynesians would worship turtles, or Egyptians would worship cows. (Ex 20:4…or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth)
They would say that the eagle is majestic and can see from above and is all knowing so that must be worthy of our worship. It’s just like God. It’s true that God is majestic, and all knowing and can see things I can’t, but the eagle swoops down out of the sky and picks of the weak and the defenseless. That is NOT God. It’s capturing something that is true of God, and applying it as God. It reduces Him, it oversimplifies Him, it brings confusion.
I don’t know anybody who knows anybody who has actually carved out a literal idol and used it for worship. My kids have used Play Doh for years and never once have I walked in and found them worshiping what they created for the Play Doh barnyard.
Just because the image isn’t literal doesn’t mean we haven’t created an image though. See if you smell what I’m stepping in.
Public figures are very conscious of their image. The image is sort of the short bio, the description, it’s the essence of who they are. When you think of Brad Pitt for instance you think of someone who is impossibly good looking, a great actor and a social activist. That is his image. It’s sort of reducing him to a couple of sentences. It’s true of Brad Pitt but it is not him.
What about God? What is His image? What is His essence? Paul told the church at Colossi that Jesus Christ was the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) The writer of Hebrews goes a step further saying that the Son is the “exact representation of His being”. (Heb. 1:3) Jesus painted a picture of God not with His hands, but with His life.
Paul said in Romans that we are being conformed to His image (Rom 8:29) and that we should no longer conform to the patterns of this world. (Rom 12:1-4) Jesus Christ is the image of the unseen God, and we are to be conformed to that image, to the image of Christ. When I’m wondering how I should live, how I should respond to a situation, what my stance on a particular issue should be, I base it on Jesus Christ Himself. What is God’s “image”? Jesus.
What was Jesus known for? He had this amazing ability to make powerful religious people feel very uncomfortable and yet the marginalized, sinners, poor, oppressed felt very comfortable in His presence. When He saw people in need, He met their needs. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He lived sacrificially. He loved.
In their book Unchristian Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman published research and found that the perception of Christians is that we are antihomosexual (95%) judgmental (87%) and hypocritical (85%) These perceptions are followed by majorities of boring, out of touch with reality.
When you stop and think of who Jesus was, how He lived while living here in a suit made of dude, how would you describe Him? Judgmental? Hypocritical? Boring? No way. How is it possible that this is our image? Perhaps it’s the image we’ve ascribed to God?
Paul said to not conform to this world, but the idea is of conforming to a pattern, to a mold. The pattern or mold of this world is to celebrate powerful, to get all I can, to be successful, to finish first. It’s the exact opposite of the image that Jesus painted with His life.
As a church we’ve sought power, we’ve sought success, prosperity, we’ve sought to impress people by “competing with the world” so that we can “reach” more people. In doing so we’ve unwittingly created an image, a graven image that attempts to represent who God is, but falls dramatically short.
I know that I’m speaking in generalities and the fact is there are churches right here in America that don’t worship this image of God. Conduit is only one example among many.
I saw a church in the image of God in Haiti. I saw a building that wasn’t fancy and had no moving lights. It didn’t even have glass in the windows. But it was a church serving their community. They were feeding the poor, healing the sick, and reaching out the world around. They weren’t prosperous, successful, or powerful; they weren’t even white. But then again, neither was Jesus.
It’s easy to cop an “Elijah complex” that nobody is getting this right but me and go hide. We must not do that. There are plenty of folks doing amazing stuff, they just don’t get on television. The church is you, the church is me. God isn’t going to hire a publicist. We can tell His story with our lives.