What is wrong with making an image of God?

(Excerpt from Sunday’s message on the Second Commandment.)

What is wrong with making an image of God for worship? It has to do with making up our own thoughts about God. Idolatry starts in the mind. As J. I. Packer put it, “Metal images are the consequence of mental images.”

The word “image” is related to the word “imagination.” How can we possibly imagine God adequately? We cannot. When we make an idol to represent God, we seek to bring God down to our level. Remember, sin was introduced into our world with the temptation, “You will be like God.” God created man in his image. When we make an idol, we attempt to create God in our image or according to our own ideas.

Idolatry is wrong, therefore, because it gives a distorted image of God. We must worship God as he has revealed himself to us in his word, and not according to our own imagination. Whenever we say the words, “This is how I like to think of God . . .” we should realize that we treading on dangerous ground. It does not really matter how you or I “like” to think of God. What matters is who God has revealed himself to be. The second commandment forbids you from thinking that God is like you or something that you imagine.


  1. eclexia says:

    I’ll never forget when my OT professor explained this to us–that it wasn’t just about not worshiping a different God, but about trying to recreate the God we already say we believe in into a form we can see.
    We do seek to know God, but if we think we’ve got Him figured out, we’re in trouble. I tell my kids, when we try to make God make sense, we are wanting to put Him in a box (He is like this, so He has to do this) and in some ways we act like we think He’s a genie: if we just figure out the paraments and rules that this God operates by, we can get Him to do whatever we want. I don’t know that that’s exactly the same point you’re making, but I think it is connected.

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    That is very close to the point I was making. I also like to use the phrase “putting God in a box” for this, but I like your illustration of the genie in the bottle, too. I may use that in the future!

  3. eclexia says:

    Oops–paraments isn’t a new word–I meant to say “parameters” 🙂
    I appreciate the way you “talk theology” in ways that I can understand. Thanks.

  4. tototu says:

    The problem with graven images is that people almost always imbue them with reverential powers or regard. The reliquaries throughout the world are often beautiful to look at, but designed to encapsulate just that sin. As to creating a depiction of Jesus or images conjured in the Bible through art, men have tried to create a tangible expression of their admiration. It is when these items are “blessed”, such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or “holy water” that they are corrupted and contravene the Word of God. Lest we think this only occurs in Catholic arenas, many Charismatics end up revering healing kercheifs such as occurred in the Pauline epistles and set them apart as iconistic artifacts. Thank God for grace and the liberty that is in Christ. We none walk guiltless, save for His Blood.

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Great points, tototu! We have a discussion of the Sunday message right afterwards on Sunday mornings, and these were some of the same points that came out in our discussion last week, too. Thanks for contributing!

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