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No Graven Images Allowed

  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. (Ex 20:4)

For several centuries, it was believed that the purpose of this commandment was to prevent people from worshiping man-made objects. When Aaron fashioned a golden calf, he was sharply criticized by Moses for his ignorance of God's law. (Moses had heard and recorded that the living God needs no counterfeit help in lifting man from his vain desires.) As we have progressed throughout our spiritual history, the primitive truth heard by Moses has become more definitive and helpful to the advancing age. We now know that material things are motivated and formed by mental means and that all commandments of God are exclusively about God. Starting from these premises, we are able to discern the beauty and profundity of the Second Command-ment. "The harmony and immortality of man are intact. We should look away from the opposite supposition that man is created materially, and turn our gaze to the spiritual record of creation, to that which should be engraved on the understanding and heart 'with the point of a diamond' and the pen of an angel" (SH 521:12). Unfortunately, sensual man prefers to worship idols of his own design and savor his own personal history.

Memories derived from and acknowledged by the five physical senses are engraved on the transient human mind where they change and decay over time. These mental idols have nothing to do with the permanent spiritual record of creation and, therefore, are not acknowledged by God. However adamantly opposed to this idea we may be, God is ignorant of the material record of events. The Second Commandment implies that we shall not have any fading false impressions because such impressions are impossible. If we are to have "no other gods before me," we must be rid of all self-graven images. In The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Peter asked, "'What is the sin of the world?' The teacher answered: 'There is no sin. It is you who make sin exist, when you act according to the habits of your corrupted nature. . . . [W]hat you do takes you further away'" 1 (emphasis added).

Every decision based on our corrupted nature includes personal judgment, and such judgment engraves on the mind something that God did not think. We find ourselves approving and disapproving the meanderings of a fantasy. That is why Jesus instructs us to "judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Proper judgment of any kind requires awareness of the underlying principle governing the case. For the Son of God, that Principle is God.

What does it take to walk this world and not be impressed with or interpret any image of anything or anyone: to have no personal feelings or opinions, to leave the brain recording device unused? Mental stillness is required if we are to obey the First Commandment as presented by the description of it in the second. The slightest inclination to bestow material forms with abilities that God does not have casts us from the pinnacle definition of a
one-power universe. God said, "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous [only power] God" (Ex 20:5). With such a stringent demand, it would be natural to be as astonished as the disciples were when they asked, "Who then can be saved?" (Mark 10:26). How can one leave his own mental mansion for Christ? If it were not possible, Jesus would not have insisted that "whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33). One might ask, 'Why should I bother, or why should I care about such things?' Jesus knew that forsaking self for Christ's sake has its reward and that pursuing earth's comforts through the treasured byways of mortal mind has its price.

First, let us consider the cost of noncompliance: "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5). We desire personal health, happiness, and freedom from fear, and we are willing to pay for it by the sweat of our brow, tilling the soil of material hopes. Has anyone ever achieved perfection that way?

Think about this:
- Scripture says that God is infinite; we gave that up so that we could have a finite universe.
- Scripture says that God is omnipotent; we gave that up for a multitude of opposing forces.
- Scripture says that God is omniscient; we prefer ignorance and seek an elusive Shangri-La.
- Scripture says that God is Truth; when Pilot asked his momentous question, "What is truth?" he turned and walked away. Are we willing to wait patiently for Christ to answer that question?
- Scripture says that God is Life; we gave that up for the certainty of death.
- Scripture says that God is Spirit; we gave that up so that we might have animated matter - bodies that are deaf, dumb, and blind to Spirit.
- Scripture says that God is all seeing. Who among us has the vision to prove this fact? Jesus promised us that we can see if we are pure in heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt 5:8). Why do we reject our heart's purity and choose lust, hypocrisy, and guilt?
- Scripture says that God is Love; we gave that up so that we could have special relationships. Love is the most misunderstood and misused word in human language.

We gave up spiritual living and blessedness so that we might buy human knowledge, but what did we get in return for this knowledge? We got all the things of this world: pleasures that do not last, youth that fades, personal friends that come and go, intoxicants, delusions of grandeur and hell, helplessness, loneliness, a body that seems to be out of our control, potential without fulfillment, the pursuit of happiness without ever finding it, and death with a faint-hearted hope of a soul that survives the body. We have fallen down to worship unknowable gods. "What a price for human knowledge! But the price does not exceed the original cost" (SH 197:6).

Regardless of all these forms of sadness, we remain the sons and daughters of one infinite Good. In reality, we cannot lose our spiritual inheritance even though we have lost sight of it because, in reality, we cannot pay the price of sin and then fail. God has sent his Son into the world, not to save losers but to confirm that we have lost nothing. Our divine inheritance is awaiting us.

  The real house in which "we live, and move, and have our being" is Spirit, God, the eternal harmony of infinite Soul. . . . [O]ur true temple is no human fabrication, but the superstructure of Truth, reared on the foundation of Love, and pinnacled in Life. . . . Can eternity end? Can Life die? Can Truth be uncertain? Can Love be less than boundless? . . . Know, then, that you possess sovereign power to think and act rightly, and that nothing can dispossess you of this heritage and trespass on Love. (Pul 2:22, 28; 3:2, 7)

At a time when I was earnestly striving to understand Saint John's book of Revelation, I decided to read that text twice a day so that I would fill every hour with the pondering of it. After two months of this exercise, I had not made any headway. The book seemed to be nothing more than a carefully orchestrated fantasy of weird imagery. Then it dawned on me that as I read, my mind was full of pictures based upon my own interpretation of the text. For example, when I read that "the first beast was like a lion" (4:7), I created a vague mental picture of a lion in my mind. I then realized that the sentence did not say that the beast was a lion but that it was like a lion. For two months, I had been unwittingly breaking the Second Commandment. I resolved to try reading the book again without forming any pictures in my mind: without any imagination or interpretation of my own.

I succeeded in being silent before Jesus' angel messenger. About a half hour after that reading, I saw and felt a living, palpable presence all around me, embracing me in love and light. I had started on the path to enlightenment because I had made room for divine Mind to explain itself. Graven mental images seem to create an impenetrable wall of separation between oneself and Truth, but how impenetrable is that wall if all we have to do is stop being busy? There is an old epigram that "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."2 Every event of our lives brings an opportunity to try.

The people of this epoch have the tools for salvation readily available. To read the truth is easier than having to discover it on our own. To know the truth because we feel the presence and hear the angel messages for ourselves is our guide to eternal life. This knowing brings on a probationary stage of healing, sharing, and teaching to strengthen our faith. Then the Comforter arrives, and we understand that we live God's Commandments; we are engraved as the Mind of God and not of ourselves. Do not be dismayed or discouraged if your attempts at an idol-free life are not immediately successful. "God requires perfection, but not until the battle between Spirit and flesh is fought and the victory won" (SH 254:6).

Acknowledging one simple truth necessarily includes all there is to Truth, for infinity cannot be divided. We have but opened a small window to the light that cannot be extinguished. Be assured that the simple facts of being have already arrived and are waiting for us to have eyes to see.

1 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Translation from the Coptic, Jean-Ives Leloup, pg. 25

2 Gilbert K. Chesterton

George Denninger ©

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