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Sports statues and the Second Commandment

By Scott Tibbs, August 18, 2012

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. - Exodus 20:4

What do Roman tyrant Nero, Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin and Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein all have in common? All three had statues erected to themselves. Nero's statue was especially outlandish, measuring an estimated 30 meters tall. What do those three tyrants have in common with Joe Paterno, who presided over the Penn State "University" football program while his assistant coach brutally raped young boys? Again, the common thread is a statue.

In His Word, God commands us not to make graven images. The Nero statue was certainly a graven image, as he made an explicit claim to divinity. It is a little less direct with Hussein and Stalin, but both certainly led a cult of personality and demanded absolute loyalty - not unlike a god. But what about the Paterno statue? Does it qualify as a graven image?

I believe it does. There is no question to any Christian with the slightest hint of discernment that sports is one of the many idols of our day. At Penn State, the football program took precedence over protecting young boys who were being brutally raped on the "university" campus. It had become a god, and worship of that god overcame the fear of judgment by the One True God for allowing these atrocities to continue. The Paterno statue was the graven image at the heart of sports worship.

We live in a society where images are everywhere, and Christians need to be mindful of the sin of idolatry. Does anyone really believe that statues of sports "heroes"(like Paterno) are not objects of veneration in many respects, not just a way to remember the "accomplishments" of people like Paterno? Can anyone with discernment go to a big-time sports game or a concert and not see that the athletes and musicians are being held up as objects of worship?

Does this mean that all images are idolatry? Does this mean you should not have a painting in your home or pictures of your loved ones? No, it does not. Obviously, not all images are idolatry. If you read Numbers 21, you will see where God ordered Moses to make an image of a snake that the people could look on and be rescued from the venom of snakes that were afflicting the people. But in II Kings 18:4, Hezekiah destroyed that bronze serpent because the Israelites were worshiping it.

But there is no question that we live in an incredibly idolatrous age, and we need to be very aware of not only the idolatry that infects our culture but our capacity to deceive ourselves into believing that we are not committing idolatry after all. Remember, the heart of man is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and we can lie to ourselves as easily as we lie to others. May God be merciful to us in our sin of idolatry.