I read an article about a woman who was busted for driving in a carpool lane with a mannequin. The officer pulled her over and, as it turns out, she had dressed up a mannequin with a brunette wig, makeup and stylish clothing. The officer, knowing what was going on, asked for the woman’s driver’s license and registration and then asked for the mannequin’s I.D. as well. The woman was not amused. The woman told the officer she saw no problem with her dummy, since everyone else was doing it. Really?
I don’t know whether there truly are a lot of people driving around with dummies. But I do know there are a lot of people worshiping dummies, or at least a dumbed-down version of God.
While the first of the Ten Commandments has to do with worshiping the right God, the second commandment has to do with worshiping the right God in the right way. We must worship him the way he wants us to worship him – because how we worship matters as much as whom we worship. It is possible to break the first commandment and not be completely aware of it. But one would be very aware of the fact that he or she is breaking the second, which is: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them …” (Exodus 20:4–5 NIV).
Does this mean it is wrong to have a cross on your wall? Is it wrong to have an artistic rendering of Christ? What about a little statue of an angel? Or what about wearing a cross or something else like that? Is that having an idol?
The answer is no, it is not. God is not against art. He is not against expression, especially as it reflects the beauty of his creation. God gave us creative ability. We know that even for the Ark of the Covenant, there were cherubim sculpted to preside over it. We know that in the temple in Jerusalem, there were images of lions and bulls and cherubim carved out. So the Bible is not criticizing the making of figures or objects. The criticism is with making those objects and using them as an aid to worship.
Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–25 NIV). It is good to worship God in spirit. There is a place for emotion in worship, too. But Jesus said we must also worship him in truth. There is a right way to worship the right God. And God doesn’t like it when we feel that we need images or icons or statues to help us in our worship.
Here is another thing to consider: God is not only against material images that misrepresent him, but he is also against false mental images. That is when people say things like, “Well, my God is like …” Or, “I like to think of God as …” Their God is a figment of their imagination.
But let me take it a step further. When people say, “I believe in a God of love, not a God of judgment. I believe in a God of forgiveness, not a God who would send a person to hell,” they are inventing their own god. And when they speak that way, not only is it unbiblical, but they are having another god before the one true God. We cannot edit God. The objective is not to make God into our image; it is to make us into his. If our image of God is false, then our thought of God is false, and it will produce in us a character that is false. And that is exactly what this commandment is dealing with.
God gave us this command because he is a jealous God. Now, some people don’t like the idea of that, including Oprah Winfrey. She has spoken out against it and said, “I was raised a Baptist, and we were way too hung up on traditional ways. I was sitting in church and heard that God is a jealous God. I asked, ‘Why?’” She thinks the idea of a jealous God is absurd and believes that a jealous God is an insecure God.
But like it or not, God says he is a jealous God. We equate jealousy with pettiness and selfishness, and we see it as a vice, not a virtue. But that is not what God means when he says he is a jealous God. Maybe if we changed the spelling, it would help us in our understanding of the word. Let’s drop the “j” and put in a “z.” God is a zealous God.
God is zealous in his love for you, and he wants you to be zealous in his love for Him. God loves you and wants an exclusive relationship with you. Doesn’t that make sense? Doesn’t a wife want her husband to be faithful to her? Doesn’t a husband want his wife to be loyal to him as well? Doesn’t a parent look out for his children and care about their welfare? Of course. That is a jealous – or zealous – wife or husband or parent.
And that is what God means when he says he is a jealous God. He is effectively saying, “I want your complete love. I don’t want you to worship other gods.”
It has been said that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. The Bible says clearly that God is love. And we don’t have a greater example of love than what we have in God showing his love for us by sending his only son to this earth to die for us. God has given us this amazing example of love. So how should we respond? As the Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We ought to love him back. But let’s be sure that we do it in the right way.