“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.
Idolatry is Idolatry is Idolatry
After an idol is made, worship will ensue. Once people imagine that they can see God through images, they will worship Him as if actually being there. When their eyes become totally engrossed in these images, they began to act like animals–gazing and wondering if God was really there in them! People get lulled into worshipping images not because they actually believe the “essence” of God is in them but because they believe that God’s power resides in them. Therefore, whether you think God or some other creature inhabits an image, the moment you prostrate yourself before it to worship it, you become sucked into superstition.
For this reason, the Lord not only forbade images of Himself to be made but also the setting up of stones or other things which could open the door to be worshipped. Furthermore, the second commandment contains instruction concerning worship. For as soon as God is represented in physical form, His power becomes attached to that representation. People are so stupid that wherever they make forms to represent God, they think He is actually there. And then, they will worship those things. It doesn’t matter whether they worship the idol itself or God supposedly in the idol. It is always idolatry when divine honors are given to an idol. Since God wills not be worshipped with superstition, whatever honor is given to an idol robs God of proper worship.
Those who argue for the use of images in worship can only desperately hunt for out-of-context Bible verses and weak evidence to support their view. Some argue that the images are not considered to be gods. Moreover, the Jews did not deny God when they made the golden calf. They knew who actually delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The people still wanted to believe in the one true God provided they could “see” Him in the calf going before them on the journey. Pagans also aren’t stupid. They realized that the “gods” transcended the idols given the fact that the images changed regularly but the gods the people worshipped did not. Besides, they regularly consecrated new images without imaging they were creating new gods. Augustine details all the excuses used by idolaters in his writings.
When challenged, idolaters claim not to be worshipping the idol but the Deity who stands above the image. Those who were more sophisticated in their arguments claimed that they were neither worshipping the idol nor the deity who inhabited the idol. Rather, they claimed, that the idol was a tangible object which reminded them to worship. All idolaters, then, whether Jews or Gentiles, work the same way and buy into the same arguments. Not content with spiritual understanding, they think that images will give them a closer relationship with God. When this preposterous understanding of God was adopted, it was not long until they believed that the power of God resided in the idol. Still, the Jews believed that they were worshipped the one true God, while the Gentiles supposed their gods dwelled in the heavens.