I believe that the worst form of idolatry is not carving an image, buying a car, or displaying art in the church. The worst form of idolatry is when an individual, church, denomination, or a society has the presumption that they have the right to set the terms under which God can be recognized. Theologians and church leaders especially, often use words and theological statements to attempt to control what God is like and how people behave.
This happened in Canada when Christian European settlers imposed their definition of God on the native people of this continent. They said, “God cannot be experienced in the way you have been used to and can only be experienced in the way that we prescribe.” We built residential schools in order to administer our idolatrous prescription. Do we still live with the presumption that we can dictate the terms under which God can be recognized?
It happens today in the way that we use the Bible. We do not worship the Bible. We become idol worshipers when we insist that there is only one correct way to interpret the Bible; and of course, it is my way! Yet God cannot be boxed in by one person’s limited ideas. The Bible is more like good art: we can read it for many years and still see something new each time we look at it. Two people can both study the same passage in the Bible and come up with two different interpretations. This is wonderful! It prevents idolatry!
There are many more ways that we try to control God but as history has shown, God is quite uncooperative in this regard! God will not be controlled by our idols, whether actions, things, or ideas.
Here’s a humorous satirical poem about a bad case of idolatry that I wrote many years ago when I was a seminary student learning all those lofty truths about God. I feel it just has to be read with a bit of an uppity, pretentious tone.
THE DYSLEXIC AND HIS DOG
a dyslexic and I have a little dog;
his name is Yahweh.
I put him on a chain or a leash
so he does not get away.
he sleeps in a little box
by the parlor door.
I have a neon pooper scooper
in case of messies on the floor.
In the morning
I take him for little walks
to Jerusalem Park.
He’s a nice little dog
but he never does bark.
my little dog was gone (god-noggit!).
I saw him at the neighbors’
(they don’t even believe in dogs)
and he’s running free and wild,
all over their yard and flowers…
He’s climbing a tree!
Dogs don’t climb trees!
The first commandment insisted that God must be first and only. The second says, believing that, we must be open for God to work in unexpected ways. God cannot be boxed in or controlled by the actions or ideas we might create. God is free, God is unlimited, God is passionate, God is fair, and God is love—let us praise God with all of our being.
This was the conclusion to the sermon I preached today on the second commandment found in Exodus 20:4-6. The entire text can be found under “sermons” above.