Thoughtful Pastor: Idolatry and contrasting points of view

February 11th, 2016

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: In Exodus, God hands down the Ten Commandments. The second commandment forbids any graven images. Later in the same book, God tells Moses how the tabernacle is to be built and decorated — and all those chapters seem to instruct Moses to have craftsmen and women to build, overlay, sculpt, weave and make jewelry for holy rites. Isn’t this a violation of the second commandment?

A little background first: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 list the first ten commandments but there are actually 613 different commandments. The include 365 “Don’ts” and 248 “Do's.”

The familiar first ten, however, give the overview of “love God and love neighbor.”

One through four tell us how to love God. Summary: Don’t exchange the worship of the Creator for the idolatry of the created.

Christy Thomas

Five to ten tell us how to love our neighbors. Summary: Be good to your parents, don’t cheat on your spouse and don’t do things to others that you don’t want them to do to you — like lying and stealing and being so consumed by envy that you can’t be genuinely decent to them.

The “graven images” thing comes out of the early Israel religious context. People have always created forms that are likenesses of important things, particularly assured fertility and political and military power. Ultimately, those created forms then became themselves objects of worship.

These 613 laws set aside Israel as religiously unique from the surrounding cultures. Using the artistic abilities and things of beauty at their disposal, the Israelites created an exquisite place to meet God. Here they entered into that mysterious Presence, symbolized by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night.

That place, the Tabernacle, was never to be worshipped itself. It was, however, to display the best and the brightest of human creativity.

When humans imagine and create things of beauty, we become most like God — those created in the image of God, the imaginative Creator of the cosmos. We are to use our creations as a means of worshipping God with heart, mind, soul and strength.

This in no way violates the commandments against making idols. However, when those objects of creation become the core of our lives, when the preservation or adoration or manipulation of the objects takes center stage and leaves us unwilling or unable to offer to God unfettered worship, then we have indeed crossed the line.

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: How does one, who recognizes they have already made up their mind about something, pick out the contradictory arguments? And, once picked out, analyze them for what they are worth?

Periodically I meditate on how little I know. I ponder the size of the universe, the miracle of life, the power of subatomic particles, the mystery of love.

Or as the wisdom writer who is quoted in the biblical book of Proverbs states it, “Three things are too wonderful for me, four that I can’t figure out: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on the rock, the way of a ship out on the open sea, and the way of a man with a young woman.” (Prov. 30:18-19, CEB).

I also make myself read and study opposing points of view from my own. I work to understand why they might be true to someone else when they seem so patently false to me. When really on a roll, I become aware that my own reality may be significantly different from someone else’s.

I’m a short, poorly coordinated, depth-perception challenged, profoundly left-handed woman. One day I was speaking with a tall, accomplished athletic male with excellent eyesight and depth perception.

In conversation, I realized how differently we perceive the physical world. To him, it is friendly, easy to navigate, full of useful tools and unquestioned comfort. For me, obstacles lurk in every sidewalk crack and piece of equipment engineered for the dominant right-handed world.

Something he might describe as “a piece of cake” looks like a near impossibility for me.

So I repeat this mantra, “I may be wrong.” Let’s face it: none of us has a handle on “objective” truth. We deceive ourselves most when we insist that “I’ve got all the facts and I’ve made the only right decision.” There is no such thing with our limited and filtered brains.

To suggest we can analyze the arguments of others with something like an unbiased logic, then, becomes highly problematic. A possibility: Try generously arguing the points of those who stand in direct opposition to your own decisions and see how well they stand up. Do so without attacking character or personality, but with acknowledging the possibility of a world considerably different from the one you know.

You will see greater possibilities and reasonable claims for multiple truths which may help inform your own.


Email questions to thoughtfulpastor@gmail.com. A version of this column will appear in the Friday February 12, 2016 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle. Christy blogs at ChristyThomas.com

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