Imagining God

I teach a catechism class here at the church for our 4-6 grade students. We use a 3-year curriculum that focuses on the teaching of the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. We just finished studying Cycle 3 (the Ten Commandments) for the second time, which means we've been using the catechism now for six years. It's really good stuff.

Regarding the Ten Commandments, I'm amazed at how much is packed into these (mostly) short prohibitions. As an example, consider the second commandment, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image." J. I . Packer writes that sin began as a response to the temptation to be like God (Gen 3:5), and the second commandment is all about keeping us from trying to be like God by scaling him down size. So this second commandment differs from the first (which forbids worshipping many gods) by warning us of the danger of relying on our imagination to inform us what God is like. Packer explains:

God’s real attack is on mental images, of which metal images are more truly the consequence than the cause. When Israelites worshipped God under the form of a golden bull-calf, they were using their imagination to conceive him in terms of power without purity; this was their basic sin. And if imagination leads our thoughts about God, we too shall go astray. No statement starting, “This is how I like to think of God” should ever be trusted. An imagined God will always be more or less imaginary and unreal (p. 244). 

Thus, the second commandment, which often seems the least applicable to us (we don't bow down to carved images), takes on a whole new importance when we consider the fact that our minds are actively imagining God to be this way or that. Unless we are allowing the Scripture to shape and form our imagination of God, we will construct a golden calf and declare it to be our god.

There can be no neutrality here. What do you imagine God to be like? Now consider: is that who God truly is or is that a golden image?

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