When we hear the word idolatry, what often comes to mind are thoughts of statues or anything we place before God, like money. But in chapter four of Knowing God, Packer instead addresses inadequate or even blatantly wrong views of God as idolatrous. As Packer quotes Hodge, “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images.” In other words, visual or pictorial images of any member of the Trinity is a violation of the second commandment. Packer says that “the commandment thus deals, not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues and pictures of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid to worshiping Him.”
What were most convicting and helpful to me were two reasons why the second commandment is so important: first, images dishonor God because they obscure His glory, and second, images mislead man. For example, when Aaron fashioned a golden calf for the Israelites, it was not a new god, but it was an attempt to visibly symbolize the God of the Israelites. Regardless of Aaron’s intent to fashion a fitting symbol of Jehovah for the people, it was a gross violation of the second commandment, “for what idea of His moral character, His righteousness, goodness, and patience, could one gather from looking at a statue of Him as a bull?” Similarly, “the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of His deity, His victory on the cross, and His present kingdom…”
Additionally, images can mislead man because they convey false ideas about God – the second commandment also prohibits wrong mental images of Him. “Those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment…To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol worshiper – the idol in this case being a false mental image of God.” In other words, as sinful creatures, apart from His word, we cannot rightly conjure up images of God as we should, or as He truly is. Who are we to claim to have the accurate image of God? This leads to the positive aspect of the second commandment.
The positive side is that we are to “recognize that God the Creator is transcendent, mysterious, and inscrutable, beyond the range of any imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable; and hence a summons to us to humble ourselves, to listen and learn of Him, and to let Him teach us what He is like and what we should think of Him.” As Isaiah 55 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”
God is so above us, Packer writes, that we cannot know of Him unless He speaks and tells us about Himself. Thankfully, Jehovah has revealed Himself to us in His word, the Scriptures, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. Without such Words, we cannot have an accurate view of God. Are we keeping the second commandment? Is the God whom we worship the God of the Bible? I know I am guilty of breaking this commandment over and again with imbalanced mental images or overlooking certain attributes of God, but I pray for forgiveness and grace through Christ, through whom God has spoken.
We’ll cover such a topic next week in chapter five, “God Incarnate.”