You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God… - Exodus 20:4-5
When I was younger, I wanted to be a lot of things. I liked the idea of being Stringfellow Hawke from Airwolf. I wanted to fly a top-secret helicopter and rescue people, until I realized I don’t enjoy flying. Then I wanted to be Christian Okoye, the big bruiser from Azuza Pacific College who played running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. In part it was because I learned he also was a world ranked shot putter and discus thrower, but also because he was ginormous. I loved watching him play. Then I learned I hated football practice. You cannot get good at something if you hate practice, or hate what you do, so that dream died.
Finally, I wanted to be Lars Riedel, the World and Olympic Champion in the discus. He had such great form and was so powerful. But when the truth came out that I was never going to surpass 5 foot 10 inches tall, and Lars is 6 foot 6 inches, I guessed I probably could not be him either. God had other plans for my good.
What hits us hard in most of life is that we often get a picture in our head of our best future, of who we think we should be, and we strive for it. Some of us succeed, but most of us fail because we are attempting to be something we are not, to have something not given to us, or just coveting the life of another human being. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we often are busy crafting for ourselves an idol that we have to feed and tend or else it will turn on us like a two-year-old that missed a nap. Feeding this idol with ever increasing expectations we know we cannot meet, or tending to it like a garden gnome that may look really cute, and adds something to the décor, but it won’t grow fruit to satisfy our hunger. Those gnomes, like most statues, just sit there taking up space and gathering cobwebs until we clean it or throw it out because it’s not in style anymore and we replace it with some other piece of lawn décor in hopes it will add something to our lives.
When God gave us the First Commandment, he didn’t do it to spite us or make our lives hard. We all believe in God, or at least we try (Lord, help my unbelief! – Mark 9:24), so being told we have a God is a no-brainer. Of course, we have a God, he doesn’t quit there. God then says to us that we should not craft for ourselves any sort of idol. Why do you think he does that? Because we are bent to idolatry. We like the idea of a deity we can control, so when God is speaking from Mt. Sinai and handing over the commandments to Israel, the people cry out “Shut up!” because they cannot stand to hear from God personally because he is too terrifying. He is uncontrollable, like a virus or a blizzard, that is what is so scary. He blows wherever he pleases and speaks to us in the way he desires, not in our way of choosing. He can come to us with life and death, holding our very breath in the palms of his hands, and I don’t know about you, but that is a little frightening.
However, God does not come to us in the commandment in anger. No! He comes to us in grace and mercy. Did you see it? Have you heard it? “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Jealous in the same way that I am a jealous husband – I do not want to share my wife with anyone else as a wife. She is to be my wife only, and I am to be her husband only. To have and to hold, in good times and bad, sickness and health, as long as we both shall live. So too with God. He hands us this commandment that we might know his intentions. He is our God, our only God, and no other. He calls us back continually with these words of grace to know that we have a God, despite how our idols play out in our lives. Despite how successful we are, how much money we earn, how much of it we give away, how many trophies we have on our mantle, or whether our grades are near the front of the alphabet or the back; God is yours and you are his. The commandment is not a burden but a gift. Yes, it reminds us regularly (as it should) that we are sinful idolaters who turn our politicians into saviors and our children into sacred cows. Yet, God, no one else, stands as ours forever. We wander off, he comes after us. If we try to get rid of him? He is going to pursue us to the ends of the earth until our dying breath as he wishes for us to not seek the things of this world as though we have life in them, nor serve them as though we must placate them for good luck. No! Instead, we cling to him. Cling to the one who gives us life, because when the day comes and we lie on our deathbed, no amount of money will stave off the enemy that comes to take our life (DEATH!). What we do have is grace and peace from God, who is our Father, and the One who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who raises the dead. All praise to him, and may he help us to grind our idols to dust and make him the source and bedrock of our faith.