The story of the second commandment is the story of God’s transcendence. If we wanted to create an object to represent God, we would get it wrong. He is utterly different, totally greater, than anything we see around us or can imagine. A theologian once said God is “wholly Other.”
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image …” This doesn’t mean humans haven’t tried. But they have made God very small when they have done this. They have misrepresented him.
When Israel first received the Ten Commandments, God was to be invisible. The people were to know he was present, and they were to know a bit about his character, but they did not know what he looked like. They did not know him completely. God remained a bit of a mystery.
And God did not want the people coming up with their own ideas about him. He did not want them ascribing attributes to him that were not true. And so – no images.
God would reveal himself to his people over time. The very prohibition against carved images of God allowed him the freedom to reveal himself in any way he chose.
God’s ultimate revelation to humanity came more than 1,000 years after the episode on Mount Sinai. A man from Nazareth gave the world its first full visual picture of God himself.
“He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
Here is an example where Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17).
Of course, the full revelation of God was not what humanity expected it would be. Some refused to see Christ for who he is, and many still refuse: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The problem of humans using their creativity and intellect to craft images of God is humans always get it wrong. The “god” or “gods” created by humans always look a lot like the humans who created them. We end up making gods in our image.
And humans worship the gods of their own creation. Right now in America, many are worshiping the gods of social justice and anti-racism. Compared to the one true God – Jesus Christ – these false gods of the world are very light on justice and very heavy on racism. Love and mercy are altogether absent.
The apostle Paul would say this is the result of spiritual blindness. These people quit looking for the revelation of God and began to make their own “carved” images.
What’s the solution then?
We need to look to Jesus with an open mind – an un-blinded mind. “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty (read: Christ), and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).