February 8, 2014

Images and imaginations

God revealed Himself in Words and in His Word made flesh. We don’t have any pictures of God and are forbidden to make images that represent Him. God knows the human heart; we are prone to put our faith in what we can see so images will be worshiped instead of Him.

The image could be made of wood or metal . . .  “A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”

This is “both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men.”

These “gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens” and “Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish.” (Jeremiah 10:1–16)

The New Testament also speaks of idols, widening the scope from gods made of trees and metal to other images made by those who reject what God reveals about Himself in creation . . .  

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)

An idol is something that is exchanged for God, a substitute relied upon for some benefit rather than seeking the blessing of the true God. I can easily see the folly of worshiping a carving, tree, or other actual image, but today’s devotional reminds me that those images begin in the imagination. That is, those who create them first have an idea of what they want their god to look like, and the carving is merely the result of their thoughts.

I’m convicted at this point for the idols of my own heart are not simple little statues, but mental imaginations that fill my thoughts. When I could be focused on God, I might be thinking mostly about family, work, and so on. It could be people, places, activities, anything that occupies my mind or fills my heart with pleasure, worry, plans, etc. I’ve been guilty of entire days, or at least most of the day thinking about something other than God. Does that make that ‘something’ an idol? It does if I am relying on my imagination to bless me in some way rather than turning to the Lord. This is important, for the results of idolatry are severe.

In Romans 1, the progression from rejecting the revelation of God to worshiping images ends up with God withdrawing His protective hand and letting those idolaters fall into sin . . . since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:26–32)

This slide into sin is a logical progression for two reasons. First, without faith, no one can please God (Hebrews 11:6) and second, if God is not given first place as stated in the first of the Ten Commandments, then none of the other commandments can be obeyed. That is, replacing Him with any idol means a slide into disobedience in all areas of life.

Psalm 97:7 says, “Let all be put to shame who serve carved images, Who boast of idols. Worship Him, all you gods.” Idolatry is shameful and boasting of it is even worse. Instead, even the idols, living or lifeless carvings, real or imagined, need to bow before their Creator. How much more must I bow also and rely on Him alone. 

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