Q9: What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?
ANSWER: First, that we know and trust God as the only true and living God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry and do not worship God improperly. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence, honoring also his Word and works.
On the evening of November 23, 1654, the French philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal experienced an intense religious encounter with God that both revitalized his Christian faith and changed the course of his life. He famously memorialized the experience in a brief note which read: “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars.” For the rest of his life, Pascal carried this note, now known as The Memorial, sewn into his coat to remind him of the singular experience of God's holy Presence.
The distinction Pascal draws between the God of the Bible and the “god of the philosophers” highlights the theme of the first three Commandments. The God of the Bible is not a god that humans invented, nor is He a god whom we can reach through careful exercise of our unaided reason. We do not ascertain or apprehend God by ourselves; rather, God reveals Himself to us. Whether from the unquenched flame of the burning bush, the pages of holy Scripture, or through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, God grants us knowledge of Himself through revelation.
Yet the constant human temptation is to refuse God's self-revelation in favor of a subtle refashioning of God into an image of our own choosing. This is the very temptation that the first three Commandments address. For the Jews in Moses' time, the golden calf served this purpose. And while we moderns no longer craft idols of wood or metal, just like the ancient Israelites we, too, attempt to refashion God into an image more pleasing to us.
Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton identify one such manifestation of this modern reinvention of God that they believe to be widely prevalent in 21st century America. They dub this phenomenon “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Of this quintessentially modern American reimagining of God, they write that its adherents believe that "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die." If Smith and Denton are right, it turns out the god we imagine is a rather benign, milquetoast deity whose principal concern appears to be ensuring our comfort and ease. Contrast this to the true and only living God whose Presence evokes fear and trembling, whose sovereignty is complete, Whose demands are absolute, and to Whom our allegiance must be total.
It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you.