An idol is defined as an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
In the Bible, it refers to:
An image or statue of a deity other than God (ex. Baal, Asherah, Molech etc)
An image or statue of God Himself. (ex. Aaron’s Golden Calf)
Anything in your life which takes pre-eminence before God. (ex. Greed, as in Col 3:5)
Most Christians have no difficulty in acknowledging point 1. They readily agree that any image or statue of a “foreign god” is an idol, and must be shunned. However, when it comes to an image or statue of the “God of the Bible”, they embrace it with arms wide open.
“How can God’s image be considered an idol? It just helps us to focus on God while we pray!”, they reason. For instance, the catholic church states the following:
But what does the Bible say?
Exo 20:4 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: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:
Deu 4:10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.
In the above passage, Moses warns the Israelites against making an idol of God. He strictly emphasizes that even when God spoke to them (Israelites), they did not see His form, but only heard His voice. Therefore, they must NEVER attempt to make an idol, image or statue representing God.
But this is the very grave mistake which Aaron committed. We are all familiar with the incident where he made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. But if we read carefully, we can notice something very startling:
Exo 32: 3 And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. 4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.
Aaron sided with the Israelites and made a golden calf, and declared that the:
Calf was the god which brought them out of Egypt: (The LORD always identified Himself as the One who brought the Israelites out of Egypt).
Built an altar to the calf and declared a feast to the LORD (not to the calf, but to the LORD Jehovah himself)
Please understand that Aaron did not create a new God; but rather, he equated the calf to LORD Jehovah and said that the feast (to the calf) was a feast to the LORD Himself! As a result, they provoked God to anger and He killed 3000 of them. Unfortunately, this practice is prevalent even today. For instance, Catholics believe that praying to their statue is praying to God Himself! However, Aaron’s story proves it false, thereby putting to rest all their arguments. This idea of God is completely contradictory to His true nature. The Most Holy God will never be compared to the work of human hands!
So how can I worship God?
Many people feel a need to have some physical entity (like an image, painting, statue, crucifix, candle etc) so that they can focus on it while praying. It’s quite relatable since most of the religions have some kind of object to concentrate. Some of us must have prayed to a crucifix or a calendar image. Or even worse, we may have travelled to a “holy place” for special prayers. Fine, but what does the Bible actually teach? How does God really want us to worship Him?
John 4:21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that those who want to worship God need not make a special pilgrimage to any holy place /church/ mountain/ river/ sea etc, but can worship Him in spirit and truth wherever they are.
By worshipping God “in spirit and in truth”, we don’t need any physical entity (idol/ statue) to objectify our faith. But how do we do that? By asking God to come into our lives. When we submit to His truth and His divine will, He will dwell in our hearts. The LORD Jesus Christ has granted us direct access to His throne, and we no longer need any other mediator.
Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.