Blogging the Institutes–1.11.8–The Origin of Idols

“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

The Origin of Idols

Where do idols come from? The teaching by the Book of Wisdom on this matter has reached near universal acceptance–idols originated by those who made images of their deceased loved ones. I admit that this practice is very old and it is like lighter fluid igniting the flame of idolatry to burn brighter. I don’t admit, however, that it was the origin of idols. Idols were in use much earlier than this practice as evidenced by the words of Moses (Genesis 31:19). When Moses speaks of Rachel stealing her father’s household idols, he is speaking of a common vice. We can infer then, that the human mind if a perpetual factory of idols. There was a kind of renewal after the flood of Noah, but soon afterward, humans descended into idolatry once again.

There are reasons to believe that even in Abraham’s lifetime, his grandchildren were given to idolatry. He must have seen the whole world polluted with idols in his lifetime. Joshua testifies that even before Abraham was born, Torah and Nacor worshipped idols (Joshua 24:2). If even the children of Shem fell into idolatry, how much more would the descendents of Ham (who was cursed!) worship idols. The human mind, stuffed full of its own self-importance, creates “gods” in its own image. People substitute vanity and imaginary ghosts for the one true God.

Not only do people imagine false gods in their minds, but they have the audacity to then make physical images of these gods. The mind conceives of the idols and people’s hands give birth to them. The Israelites are an example of this phenomenon: “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). They knew the one true God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and had delivered them by His great power. And yet, they lacked assurance He was near to them. If only they could see God, then they could know He was with them! So they advocated for an image to be made of God.

Our everyday experience shows us that our flesh is restless until it sees some image of God which looks like itself. Therefore, people regularly create visible images to worship.

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