The 2nd Commandment

I sometimes discuss religion as a confession of this political junkie. But, usually it is done lightly or with only a shallow contemplation. If you’ll humor me, I want to have a serious post on the subject of the 2nd Commandment. It’s a personal epiphany I had that is worth sharing.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:4-6 (KJV)

According to Websters Dictionary, “graven” can be defined as a verb meaning “to carve out, to give shape to.” We often think of graven images as material objects — idols like statues of Zeus used by the Greeks to express the physical manifestation of an invisible god.

I was reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis a while back. For those of you who don’t know about the Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote them as though a devil was writing letters to a demon he was training on what to do to ensnare a human in hell. In one of the letters Screwtape, the mentor devil, tells Wormwood, the pupil, to keep the thoughts of Wormwood’s charge in the future or the past.

If the thoughts were of the future, when they did not materialize the human would be angry with God. If the thoughts were in the past they are inevitably more charitable to the past than the past really was. As a result, the human is likely to believe God is unfairly punishing him in the present. Screwtape cautions Wormwood to never let the human dwell his thoughts upon the present for that is where God is most real and visible.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. A graven image does not have to be a physical object. It can be an ideal carved in my head of what I want, what I hope for, what I intend — my dreams and ambitions all rolled into one comfortable place to hide from present realities. I idolize the future.

I think most people don’t realize that they idolize the future and that they have crossed the line from careless dream into harmfully worshipping a reality they have carved for themselves, but not one God has chosen for them. Then we get angry with God and, if you are a free will type, you get angry at yourself for making bad choices and you spiral down into a depression until you construct a new future where the sum total of your past choices still adds up to the future you want for yourself. The cycle repeats.

Now, before I go on, this is different from setting goals and working toward them. There is nothing wrong with that advancement. The Corinthians set a goal of raising funds and Paul encouraged them to carry on with the fundraising drive. There is no harm in ascertainable goals.

What I’m talking about is entirely different. What I am talking about is what I too frequently do (and what you might also do too frequently). We design a world in the future where we are financially comfortable, healthy, with 2.5 kids, a dog, and a loving wife. We reach the intended point of the realization of that future and we have maybe a part of that reality, but not what we envisioned. So we pull away from God and think he is punishing us when really we have only set ourselves up for disappointment.

So let’s try something. Let’s count our present blessings and let God work in us. If you are a predestination type, let’s let God lead us. For you free will types, listen to God to help with the choices you make. Let’s turn our thoughts to him and, as we discussed in Bible Study tonight, let’s “turn every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Cor. 10:5.

Let’s live in the present, however unacceptable it may be, with Christ as our Lord and Savior, instead of dwelling in a future where we have everything but the real God of the Bible.

Sermon over. Good night.

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Erick Erickson

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