As High Above the Heavens

Good Afternoon Church,

I hope you are all having a wonderful week! This afternoon I was thinking through what I’d like to address in my weekly email. I have a rough schedule, and my calendar says to write about the second commandment today. The second commandment that says not to make “for yourself a carved image…” (Ex. 20:4-6). Now, truth be told, I’ve always struggled with this commandment, because it seems an awful lot like the “first commandment” namely, “Have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). Both concern idolatry. Both speak to our propensity to let our worship drift from the One to whom it is due.

But there is a subtle difference between the two. While the first commandment tells us not to make anything created into a god, the second commandment tells us not to make the Creator into anything created. Not to, in Paul’s words, “exchange the glory of the immortal God for the images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom 1:23).

One of the most obvious ways that we violate this commandment is that we often make God into our own image. We assume that he is like us in the sense that he shares our sense of moral outrage, he likes all the same things we do, and he really does want to smite all the same people we do.

The reality is that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9). In other words, God is above us, he is, in one writer’s words, “Wholly Other.” His way is perfect, ours is imperfect. While we can grow to resemble him in some ways, the chasm between who he is and who we are will always be great.

Now, this is actually good news. Here’s why: there is probably an end to the amount of mercy I might be inclined to show someone. I probably do not have an unending well of compassion and forgiveness, at least not in my own strength.

But when Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are higher than ours, he also tells us, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near… let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). God’s mercy and his forgiveness and his pardon are infinitely deep and inexhaustible and unending. God’s ways are higher than ours in that his forgiveness is greater than ours.

Here’s the upshot of all this. If we make God into our own image, we will assume that he could not possibly be as forgiving, as charitable, as kind, and as gracious as he is. And if we assume that, then what reason would we have for running to his arms? What reason would we have to return to him? But if we know that he is indeed this good, if he is indeed this forgiving, if he is indeed this much more loving than we are, than I can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence.

So, Beloved, make no graven images.

In Christ,

Pastor Matt


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