The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

The 2nd Commandment

by Hadley Robinson

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. – Exodus 20:4

Throughout the ages, many have been troubled by images of the Eternal. This can include paintings of the Christ, depictions of the Father in some way, icons, and whatnot.  In particular, pious Jews before the First Coming (from what little we know of them, including the Prophets) would likely have some reservations about the abundance, for example, of movies depicting the life, death, and resurrection of the LORD.

Should we just ignore the 2nd Commandment?  If it was not implied in the first of the Royal Two Commandments of Jesus given in the New Covenant made with all men, we could ignore it.  How can we love God with our entire being if we love some false god, as well?  How can a man love two women?  How can I love money and God at the same time?  What constitutes making an idol?  The Commandment is fairly clear "…in the form of anything in heaven...."  What does “anything” mean?  Is it anything?  Or most things, excepting what church authorities might consider not to be an idol of some sort?

Perhaps the following could be a sort of test.  If whatever it is, is defaced, destroyed by fire, stolen, publicly mocked by the heathen, or subject to some other malicious act – what is our response?  Are we deeply disturbed?  Our faith shaken?  Or, would we consider it similar to having the photo of some popular public official defaced?  Whatever our response might be, it would be a telltale sign of whether our hearts might harbor some form of idolatry: The connection of some form of matter with the Eternal or some false god.

Idolatry is so widely condemned in Scripture from one end to the other that we should not have to make a case of what it is.  Like the heathen, it is all too easy to connect, for example, the golden calves of King Jeroboam and of the high priest Aaron with the unseen.  How are we, as fallen corrupt humans, any different in the heart than they?  As converted men, we can know better – hopefully.

Consider the taking of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. by the monotheistic heathen, the Muslims. The central cathedral, the Hagia Sophia (360-1453 A.D.), was converted to a mosque. Was this a desecration or some sacrilegious act? Or, was it the mere invasion of a building used for worship? It is a good question for the Christian to answer.

To see a building where the church meets burned and looted should be something like having the same done to our own home. It would be tragic loss. But would we be horrified and broken over one but not the other?  Is there any material difference between the one and the other?

I think it is question worth asking.

What did the Christ look like to human eyes? Which movie actor or painting accurately depicts His image? Which one do you like and why? “He looked like this!” “He looked like that!” “Angels have wings!”.  I have never seen an Angel nor have I seen the risen Christ.

I am not about to tell anyone what an idol is. But these are issues worth considering as our hearts are easily led astray. Just look at the immorality, divorce, and adultery among Christians. Apparently, the 7th Commandment takes on a relevancy about the same as the 2nd.

I have seen Hindus kneel and pray before a handsome little statue. Is the only reason that this may be idolatry is that the god/goddess is non-existent, a material object that pretends to represent the unseen?

Falsely representing the unseen is at the heart of the 2nd Commandment.  There is not any reference in Scripture to His elect picking up a piece of charcoal and offering to sketch the Christ.  What about images and paintings of God the Father?

God is not a man.... -- Numbers 23:19

On the other hand, depictions of things in this world, like the cross, are not images of anything unseen and, as a consequence, not idols.