Blogging the Institutes–1.11.4–Idols are Self-Defeating

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Idols are Self-Defeating

The Psalms show that idols are nothing: “Their idols are silver and gold; the work of man’s hands” (Psalm 115:4; 135:15). Because of these idols are made out of physical materials, the Psalmist shows that they are not gods. The author takes for granted that any human attempt to depict God is a lie. He specifically mentions silver and gold, rather than clay and rock, to show that even the noblest materials can cause true worship. He then draws a general conclusion: that nothing is more unlikely than a “god” being made from inanimate matter. Human beings are forced to confess that they but creatures of the day, yet would want metal to be made into an idol. Where do idols come from except human will?

A heathen poet had good grounds for mocking idols: “I was once the trunk of a fig-tree, a useless log, when the tradesman, uncertain of whether he should make me a stool, chose rather that I should be a god.” In other words, a human being, who breathes out his life almost every moment, is able by his own reason and will to confer the name and honour of deity upon a lifeless tree-branch. While the heathen poet had no regard for religion when he mocked idolatry, let us hear the stinging rebuke of the prophet. May it cut us to the heart when he talks about the infatuation of those who take a piece of firewood to warm themselves, bake bread, roast meat, and out of the leftovers, make a “god” before whom they bow down and worship (Isaiah 44:16). Isaiah continues and in another place not only charges idolaters with guilt before God’s law, but also a failure to learn from creation that it is incomprehensible to try to make the infinite deity fit into the finite.

Yet experience shows that the abomination of idolatry is natural to people. The Bible also shows that every mode of idolatry is denounced. Being the works of people, idols have no authority from God (Isaiah 2:8; 31:7; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:13). Therefore, this is an absolute truth: all modes of worship devised by people are detestable. The Psalmist places the infatuation with idolatry in even stronger light when he shows how helped is asked from dead and useless objects by people who have the intelligence to know that the universe is run by God alone. But while the corruption of humankind leads all people into this madness, the Holy Spirit thunders, “Those who make them will become like them; everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:8). What you should notice from the text is that the very likeness of God is forbidden, whether sculpted or otherwise. This dismissed the frivolity of the Greek Church. They think they’re ok because they have no sculpted shape of God. But no one uses images and pictures more than they do! The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of Himself to be set up in the church but any picture whatsoever because such an image is sinful and insulting to His majesty.

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