In our worship and all of our life, God wants us to be loyal to him alone.
LD 34 q&a 94.
What does the LORD require in the first commandment?
That for the sake of my very salvation
I avoid and flee
all idolatry, witchcraft, superstition,
and prayer to saints or to other creatures.
that I rightly come to know the only true God,
trust in him alone,
submit to him with all humility and patience,
expect all good from him only,
and love, fear, and honour him
with all my heart.
that I forsake all creatures
rather than do the least thing
against his will.
LD 34 q&a 95.
What is idolatry?
having or inventing something
in which to put our trust
instead of, or in addition to,
the only true God
who has revealed himself in his Word.
LD 34 q&a 96.
What does God require
in the second commandment?
We are not to make an image of God in any way,
nor to worship him in any other manner
than he has commanded in his Word.
LD 34 q&a 97.
May we then not make any image at all?
God cannot and may not
be visibly portrayed in any way.
Creatures may be portrayed,
but God forbids us
to make or have any images of them
in order to worship them
or to serve God through them.
LD 35 q&a 98.
But may images not be tolerated in the churches
as “books for the laity”?
No, for we should not be wiser than God.
He wants his people to be taught
not by means of dumb images
but by the living preaching of his Word.
Heartfelt loyalty to one God
In many religions of the world, there are multiple gods. Each god is in charge of part of the world, part of your life. These gods are sometimes in competition with each other; that would explain why the world is sometimes such a mess. In these polytheistic religions, people choose their favourite god, or divide their loyalty and worship between several gods.
But Christianity is monotheistic. We recognize that our God is the only true God in the universe. There are no others. Even the greatest force of evil, Satan himself, is not a divine being. Even he is under God’s control. Because he is the only one, God does not want to share his glory with anyone else. For the Israelites in the Old Testament, as well as for the Jews today, the key texts in the Bible was Deut. 6:4-5:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Jesus pointed to the second sentence and said: “This is the first and great commandment.” It is a commandment of love, of heartfelt loyalty. The point is not so much our outward behaviour, but our inward motivation. The Heidelberg Catechism in q&a 94 picks up on this when it says: “… and love, fear, and honour him with all my heart.”
When Jesus lived on earth, he was perfectly loyal to his Father. He spoke fondly of him. His prayers to the Father (esp. in John 17) are amazingly intimate. Jesus, being himself the one God, showed us also how to honour God.
The way of worship
Many religions use statues and other images to represent a divine power, and to have access to it. The idea is “magic”: somehow, the image is a connection to a greater, spiritual reality. Such statues are false gods. When the second commandment says: “Make no images,” it is therefore closely connected to the first commandment.
But sometimes people try to use statues to worship the one true God.
Read Ex. 32:1-10. In what way did Aaron and the Israelites have good intentions? What did the LORD think of their actions?
The second commandment insists that no image, of anything at all, may be used to worship. It may not be used to worship God, because it cannot be used to worship God. Because our God, the LORD, is so far beyond our created reality, that you cannot picture him. “God cannot and may not be portrayed in any way,” says the catechism. And you certainly should think that, by worshipping something, you honour God. The second commandment says that God is jealous: he does not tolerate that people give honour to things, instead of directly to him.
What exactly does it mean: to worship God?
If you don’t make statues and don’t pray to pictures, you may think that you are good, as far as the second commandment is concerned. But keep that commandment in mind, anyway. It is easy for us to decide for ourselves what God may or may not like us to do.
“We are not … to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” The LORD himself tells us how he wants us to worship him. If we pretend to respect him, but we ignore what he says about the way of worship, we end up dishonouring him.
Question and answer 98 show a historical example of this problem. In the churches around 1500 AD, there were many statues and paintings in church. People were impressed by the beauty of the richly decorated churches; and thought that this beauty gave honour to God. These images also had a very practical function: they showed characters from the Bible and events in the life of Jesus, especially his suffering and death. It was easy to say: These images are good and important, because they teach us about God.
But the Reformers recognized that this was not right. Does God want images in his church? Does he need them for his people to learn? In the Bible, people proclaim God’s Word, and used the Scriptures to learn and grow in faith. Instead of reading the Bible in Latin (which very few people understood) and leaving the teaching up to pictures, the church should read and explain the Bible in the language of the people. This is only one example where worship was wrongly influenced by human ideas and creativity.
Jesus, the Image of God
But it is not true that we have no images at all. As Christians, we worship the one God, but we know him especially through Jesus. We believe that Jesus Christ, a real man born 2000 years ago, is himself God. You could say that God has become visible and tangible in Jesus. In John 1:14, Jesus’ close friend John wrote: “We saw his glory, a glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and mercy.”
Jesus’ disciples did not have to do with an invisible God. They saw God and had close fellowship with God. Jesus told them: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” When we study the life of Jesus and listen to the many stories of things he did, we get to know God himself.
The Bible says that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb. 1:1) It is an amazing thing that the God, who is so majestic that he cannot be captured in any image, made an Image of himself, as it were, and gave it to the world.
We must worship this Image of God. Admire Jesus. What he did and said; and who he still is, our King in heaven. Pray through Jesus, pray in his name. Follow Jesus in times of difficulty and joy. Put all your hope in him. He is the only Way of worship.
- First question
All: Memorize q&a 95 and 96.