"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God, am a jealous God" (Exodus 20:4-5). That's the second of the original ten commandments - do not make or worship idols; keep yourselves from idolatry.
For many of us, at the word "idolatry" our minds can't help but summon images of savage tribes, kow-towing before carved totems or pagan priests offering human sacrifices before skull-adorned statues. Clearly, though, we good twenty-first century Christian folk aren't bending the knee to such pagan notions, especially nowadays in our soy-triple-latte-hold-the-whip postmodern society... Are we?
I recently read a chapter in J.I. Packer's Knowing God that forced me to reexamine the theme of idolatry in my own life. Packer builds a case for "more subtle forms of idolatry" around Charles Hodge's principal: Idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. Packer then defines "images" as any visual or pictorial representation of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship.
That means, as the chapter goes on to explain, that crucifixes, statues, paintings, meant to represent any member of the Trinity are all, in reality, misrepresentitive. None of these things are God Himself, Packer asserts, but mere man-concieved images of Him. Speaking for myself, this is a hard pill to swallow. What about the great art of the Renaissance? Passion plays? Jesus movies? That painting of Christ out in the lobby of your church? I'm a visual artist - a graphic designer by trade, but also dabble in drawing, painting, photography, video and multimedia. I've drawn, painted, photographed and designed countless images meant to depict Christ, the glory of God, the work of His Spirit. Have I thus created images? By Packer's assertion, most assuredly I have.
Read Part II