Displeased With The god We Create

Exodus 20:4-6

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / September 26, 2004


In the first commandment, the object of our worship is addressed; in the second commandment, the manner of our worship is addressed. In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in the second commandment, worshipping God in a false manner is forbidden (Thomas Watson).


What is implied then, by the second commandment, is that worshipping the correct God is not enough; we must also worship the correct God correctly.


Most of us look at the second commandment, we see the prohibition against making “a graven image”, and worshipping it (20:4), and we imagine ourselves to be safe from ever breaking this command. You are not squirming in our pew at the hearing of this commandment because it is highly unlikely that you are secretly hoarding a massive collection of graven images in your home.


I suspect that if this morning’s sermon was merely aimed at those who possess, and worship, graven images, this sermon would completely miss the mark. Moreover, if constructing a tangible representation of God was the extent of what the second commandment forbade, we would likely assert that this commandment is altogether dated.


            To the contrary, we must understand that “graven images” is merely the fruit from a tree that is sick. The root of the problem is a heart that wants to make the incomprehensibleness of God understandable.  Idolatry is the attempt to contain and confine the one Being who is infinitely free.


            For the Israelites in the desert, idolatry manifested itself in the creation of a golden calf (Exodus 32). For the Christian, in 2004, our idolatry is most commonly connected with how we think about God. Our dilemma is aptly described by John Calvin who asserts that the human mind is ‘a perpetual factory of idols’. That is, we are prone to conceive of God in familiar and comfortable terms. Our tendency is to create and mold mental images of what we want God to be like. We demonstrate this by employing phrases like, ‘The God I believe in wouldn’t do that’, or, ‘I would like to think of God as being (fill in the blank).’


By employing phrases such as these we demonstrate that we have, at least temporarily, ceased from worshipping the God revealed in Scripture, and have begun to worship a god of our own creation.


Surely, it is not enough to simply say, 'I believe that God is (fill in the blank)'—you must have a basis for your belief. If I say to you, in all sincerity, that I believe every dog has 6 legs, how would you respond? The postmodern mind might say, ‘Well, Bryn, what is true is what is true for you.’ Nonsense! I hope you would say that my personal belief has no bearing on things that are a matter of fact. Just because you believe something doesn't make it true. This is because truth does not originate from us; it originates from God. Truth is not to be measured by our word, but by God’s Word.


            If we honestly evaluate what we believe about God, and where those beliefs have come from, I suspect that we will find that a significant portion of what we believe about God is rooted in what we want to believe about God.


It can hardly be debated, that our tendency as human beings is to be governed by personal preferences. Most of our life works this way. Think about how your home is decorated—have you decorated your home according to some mandated provincial legislation? No, you have decorated your home according to your personal tastes. Think about those instances when you go out for dinner—can you imagine the response from your waiter if you insisted that he decide what you are going to eat from the menu. This is unheard of! We decide what we will eat and, inevitably, we order food that we find palatable and pleasing.


And how about the way you dress? Put aside for the minute the fact that there are a few husbands here today who need their wives to tell them how to dress—for most of us, how we dress is intensely personal, and so we determine what we shall wear according to our own preferences.


And since so much of our life is governed by personal preferences, most of us find it extremely difficult to turn this governing switch off when it comes to our Christian faith. Our natural tendency is to worship the god we prefer; our tendency is to worship the god of our own understanding. But this god is too little. To worship the god we have conceived of in our mind is to break the second commandment. When we worship the god we prefer, we commit idolatry.


Perhaps it was for this reason that A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”


Idolatry is not merely some ancient sin from a primitive culture; idolatry is something that every human being, in every age, struggles with. This is because idolatry, at its essence, is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.


Our temptation is to think of God in human terms. We often think that God is much like us—only bigger. God had to correct the psalmist of this when He says, "You thought I was altogether just like you"(Ps.50:21). What is implied, of course, is that we are not like God, and that we are dreadfully mistaken when we envision God to be just like us.


If our beliefs about God are to be worthy of Him, they must come from the Bible. As Calvin has said, “Because God does not speak to us every day from the heavens, there are only the Scriptures in which He has willed that His truth should be published.” Our challenge then, is to worship the God of the Bible rather than the god of our own creation.


With the Bible as our foundation for knowing God, we must nonetheless confess that God cannot be fully known. As finite creatures with finite minds, we must confess our inability to know God exhaustively. The apostle Paul confesses this in his letter to the Romans: "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?"(Rom.11:33-36).


There are occasions when, as we contemplate God’s nature, and as we contemplate His acts of providence, we are compelled to confess that God's ways are "unfathomable".


We are thankful, however, that while God cannot be known fully by human beings, He can be known sufficiently. Thankfully, the Bible gives us sufficient information about God. The Bible provides sufficient instruction to help us to know God, and to worship Him appropriately.


So, you see, the second commandment is eminently concerned with how you and I think about God. And since our thoughts inevitably give birth to actions, the second commandment is also concerned with the manner in which we engage God in worship.


It is often the case that ministers who design worship services think first about the people that will be present, as if they were the audience. Yet, if our worship is truly directed at God’s glory alone, as we confess, then God is the audience, and the rest of us are participants.


Once we make this paradigm shift, we will find that our questions change. Instead, of asking, ‘Did I enjoy that hymn?', instead of asking, ‘Did that worship service make me feel good?’, we will first ask some different questions; we will ask, ‘Was God glorified in what we have just done?’, ‘Was the content of the music, preaching, and prayers, consistent with God’s Word?’


If God, and His glory, is your first concern one of the results will be that you will delight in worshipping Him, regardless of whether the form of worship conforms to your personal tastes.


If God, and His glory, is your first concern, it will not matter that The Lord’s Prayer was not prayed, or that the Doxology was not sung, or that the tune to your favourite hymn was changed. It will not matter so long as what takes place in worship is pleasing to God.


And we must not imagine that what pleases God, and what pleases us, is mutually exclusive. We should not imagine that worship that is driven by something other than human preferences will necessarily translate into a miserable experience for the worshipper. No, far from it! For the person who adores the Lord Jesus Christ, worship that is pleasing to Him, and honouring to Him, will be a source of tremendous joy.


Imagine going to a ceremony where your spouse is receiving an award, or going to a ceremony to watch your son or daughter graduate from University. The ceremony is long, the chairs are uncomfortable, and frankly, the keynote speaker is incomprehensible. Do you leave the ceremony disheartened? Of course not; because your loved one was honoured, and this brings you tremendous joy and satisfaction.


This is great news for the Sunday worshipper. Because even if the preacher stammers through his sermon; even if the choir is off key, so long as God is glorified, we can leave satisfied.


Think, for a minute, about the first question from the Westminster Catechism: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ Answer: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.


Friends, it is no accident that the Westminster Divines connected God’s glory and our joy. God has so ordained that attempting the one, leads to the other. Seeking God’s glory does not come at the expense of joy.


Many people imagine that, in order to appropriately honour God, they must give up their happiness in the process. Quite the contrary! The testimony of Scripture is that seeking God’s glory is the only way to experience true joy.


So, on the negative side, we want to avoid incurring God’s wrath by breaking the second commandment; we want to avoid worshipping the god of our creation, and we want to avoid worshipping the true God in a false way.


On the positive side, we want to worship the correct God correctly, because this is the way of joy. Keeping the second commandment enables us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Amen.