God Should Contradict You, Confuse You, and Make You Mad
People sometimes think the second commandment (don’t make carved images) is just a restatement of the first commandment (don’t have other gods before God). There is some overlap, but there is also a shade of difference. While the first commandment focuses on worshipping the wrong gods, the second commandment is actually about worshipping the right God in the wrong way.
We break this command and “make carved images” not just by having golden statues but whenever we define God as we want him to be rather than as he is.
And, there is probably no command we more consistently and routinely break than this one. It comes out like this: “The way I see God is …” or “I don’t think God would really have a problem with …” or “I prefer to think of God as …”
But, as I explain in Not God Enough, it doesn’t matter how we “like to see God.” God is who he is. When God appeared to Moses and Moses asked him his name, God didn’t say, “Moses, I am whoever you need me to be.” He said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).
In Exodus 20:4-5, God equates reshaping him into a new image with hating him, because you are saying, “God, I don’t like the real you. I need you to be this for me to love you.”
Imagine if a woman’s husband found out that she routinely told her friends, “I like to see my husband as a 6’4” ‘Jack’ from ‘This Is Us,’ who lifts weights and whose perfect idea of date night is perusing the aisles at Target.” If she kept saying that, her real husband, 5’6” Terry who works in IT, wears penny loafers, and likes fantasy football might get upset. He has a right to ask her why she has to re-imagine him in order to love him.
In the same way, it’s an insult to God when we have to reshape him into something else in order for us to love him.
I have a litmus test to help you determine whether or not you are doing this: How often does God contradict you, confuse you, or make you mad? Because if he’s not doing any of those things, chances are you are not really letting God be God—you are only re-imagining him as you want him to be.
Any time you are in a relationship, the other person is going to confuse and contradict you. It’s why the first year of marriage is often so hard. When you start to date a person, psychologists tell us, you get to know a part of that person—and you like that part—and then you fill in all the gaps of what you don’t know with what you want that person to be. This all gets shattered, of course, in the first six months of marriage, because the real person is usually not like your imagination. (That’s why, as I’ve heard it said, love is a dream, and marriage is the alarm clock.)
Real people in real relationships do things that surprise and contradict us. If that’s how it is with another human, then how much more so with God?
God is not just a slightly bigger reflection of ourselves. As Karl Barth said, “If our God never contradicts us or makes us mad, then we are likely not worshipping him, but a reflection of ourselves.”
We Americans might be the worst at this because we assume that we are at such an advanced moral stage that if there is a God, of course he’s going to see things like we do in our enlightened state.
But why do we assume we are at a place where we don’t need correction and that everything in us that “feels right” is actually right?
We know that wasn’t true of previous generations. We know, for example, it felt right to some of our grandparents that the races be kept separate. It may have “felt right” to them, but today, we know that’s wrong. It feels right in certain cultures for women to not be educated and instead be kept in the home. We say, “That may ‘feel right’ to you, but that is wrong.” In Viking days, they conducted honor killings because it “felt like” the only way to even the score if someone insulted them. Today we say, “But that feeling was wrong.”
Why do we assume that we are the first generation in history whose instincts are 100 percent reliable? Do we really think that our great-grandchildren will admire us for our moral foresight? Is that what we think about the worldview of our great-grandparents? Hardly.
The Bible offends every culture and every generation, just in different ways. It is an equal opportunity offender—and that’s what we should expect if the Bible really is the Word of God and we are a fallen people.
To really know God, we have to be willing for him to say some things that we don’t want to hear. He has to make us mad and confuse us sometimes, because only then can we hear from him the things we desperately do want to hear.