The divine prohibition upon images in the Torah rested in part upon the fact that idols take the place that belongs to human beings as those created in the image of God. What idols occupy such a position in society today?
The first commandment—that Israel should have no other gods beside YHWH—is the foundation for our liberation, as it was for Israel. It delivers us from all other ideas or powers that might claim our absolute loyalty and obedience.
Paul’s teaching about the manner in which love for weaker brethren should guide behavior when considering eating food sacrificed to idols provides principles that remain relevant, long after the issue that provoked their articulation. The role that politics and the state play in contemporary forms of idolatry suggests analogies that can be drawn between the responsibilities of first century Corinthians and our own.
The idea that the political aspects of the Ten Commandments are confined to the latter portion and that the beginning portion is only ‘religious’ in nature is unsustainable. The politics of the commands themselves as well as the politics of the conversations in which those commands are embedded continue to be instructive for faithful communities today.
In the face of the thoroughly known god who sponsors our political ideologies and patriotic projects, we must join with the Apostle Paul in proclaiming the unknown God. Cutting across our speculation, superstition, and listless curiosity in the revelation of Jesus Christ, this God punctures our comfortable idolatries and calls us all to give account.
As the golden calf gave the ancients a false sense of security, many twenty-first century Americans look for security in weapons. When our leaders are absent or fail us; when our God is invisible and from all appearances is absent from our lives; when we don’t know how we can keep going; when we are consumed by our fears and feel threatened by those who are not like us, those are the moments when new idols are imagined and fashioned and desperate people give them their ultimate concerns, devotion, and focused attention.