I remember as a child staring out the window from the back seat of my parent’s car. I would gaze at other cars that were on the road as we passed by. One thing that always intrigued me was as I would stare intently at the hub cap or rim on the wheel, at least for a brief moment, it would appear as if the tire was turning opposite to the direction the car was moving. Now I realize that it was all an optical illusion, I had perceived the tire to be doing something that it wasn’t. How many times do we perceive people the same manner? Our brains are constantly gathering information about a person every time we see them, talk to them, or come into contact with them in some way. That information is processed, and from that we form an opinion about that person. We decide things like if we believe that person to be friendly. Do they want to be our friend? Do we want to be their friend? What if, similarly to looking at that tire, the information we are receiving is not being perceived accurately? What if what we have perceived to be an accurate assessment of that person is really an illusion? Let me explain it a little better this way.
My wife Kate is a very loving and caring person. I have rarely seen someone who is so willing to lay down their own agenda and plans in order see another attain theirs. She is passionate about helping those that the world has written off. Determined to make sure they understand how important and precious they are to her and especially to God. The problem is that in her everyday life of coming and going, she is introverted and somewhat shy. She is definitely not the type to go around introducing herself to everyone, or even starts up a conversation with someone she is mildly acquainted with. Because of this I have had people tell me on numerous occasions that initially they believed that she didn’t like them, or that she didn’t want to socialize with them. This would keep Kate from developing relationships with those around her; they assumed that she had either very little or no interest in them. This of course was a complete misreading of Kate. She loves to get to know people, to talk to people. It’s just not her nature to initiate. And many times this is misinterpreted this as being evidence of Kate not liking them, or of her not caring. These erroneous perceptions lead to false impressions of Kate’s true nature. They would attribute thoughts, feelings, and attitudes to Kate that were not hers. They had created a false image of Kate. In the same manner in which other’s wrong perceptions of Kate influenced their relationship with her, our perceptions of God’s nature and who He is will dictate our relationship with Him.
In a similar way, after their exodus from Egypt, we see the Israelites doing the same thing. They formed a false image of God instead of getting to know His true nature.
And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god (Elohim), O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:4-5 NKJV – parenthesis mine)
Why did the Israelites create an idol at the foot of the mountain covered in fire and smoke? Were they trying to worship idols instead of God? No! They fashioned the golden calf to represent the God that delivered them from the yolk of bondage. ; The God that forced pharos hand and who opened the red sea to let them escape while swallowing up their adversaries. They wanted to worship the one true God and this was the only way they knew how to do it, and without Moses, a type of Jesus to guide them, they fell back on the information they had gathered from years of watching the Egyptians worship. They knew of the wrath and power of the gods of Egypt; surely this God was no different. They relied on their previous religious experiences to form an opinion of who God was and what He wanted. Instead of forsaking their old religious ways for the new that set them free, they mixed the two and so attributed to God a nature that was not His. They created an idol long before the calf was ever fashioned.
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: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: (Exodus 20:4-5)
God had told them through Moses that they were not to make an image to Him. They were not to worship as they had done in the past. Why was this so important that God made this command number 2 on the all important thou shalt / thou shalt not list? Was God really that worried about competition with a hunk of metal, wood, or stone? Was He offended that they would bow down to an object instead of bowing down to Him? Was He intent on not letting anything get the praise and worship that He alone desired? Of course not! A man made carving does not intimidate God. He does not get His feelings hurt. He does however know that our relationship with Him is directly related to how we perceive Him. The Israelites assumed that He was like all the other gods they had know in Egypt. And like the others, they assumed that the God of their fathers wanted them to build an image of Him and worship it. But it is God’s heart’s desire that the thoughts and images we form in our mind are based on real personal encounters with Him, which will be consistent with scripture. Not assumptions based on experience alone. It is only during these personal encounters with Him that His true nature is revealed to us, not through the ideas and teachings of another man. God is fully aware that when you create an image and worship it, then that very image you create will define the limits of your relationship with Him. Any image that we create is a representation of our hearts belief of who we think God is. It will be a constant physical reminder reinforcing those beliefs. That is why we as Christians are to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) When we constantly gaze at the image, instead of the One it represents, then there is very little opportunity to be transformed into His true nature.
Before we condemn the Israelites for what they did, we need to look in a mirror. We, the modern Christians, have been saved (brought out of Egypt) and now have created an image in our minds that in many ways is worse than the golden calf the Israelites fashioned. Much of what we believe is actually the complete opposite of God’s true nature. Many actually will see the works of the devil manifested and attribute it to God. The gospel has clearly portrayed to us the reality that God has come down from Heaven, not to reside on the top of a mountain or in a tent, but to live and abide in us! But instead of joyfully entering this union and having intimacy with the creator of the universe, we hide behind a preacher or priest and say, “Let God speak to you, then you tell us what He says.” All the while, creating an artificial barrier that keeps us seeing who man tells us God is instead of who God really is. You cannot create the proper image of God with second hand revelation. You must see Him for yourself.