Thursday, September 15, 2005

Graven Images

"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


Oldhops said...

I would have to think that the picture in your entryway and drawings that you have done are more of an expression of your love for God and the place he holds in your life. Now if you and your friends gathered around it to eat goats you may want to rethink. That is an interesting thought though, I will have to think more about that. Oh by the way I'm a friends of Sam, he has you linked.

Marc Penner said...

I haven't read the book (it is on my long list of books that I want to get around to reading), so I can't say exactly whether I disagree with what Packer wrote, but I do have to disagree with the conclusion that any image representative of God is wrong. I think the problem is in how we act to the images. Do we believe that our man-made images are accurate? Do we believe that the image is the important thing? Do we worship the image rather than the one that the images represents?

It is certainly true that whatever man makes will never be accurate, but that alone shouldn't be a reason against images of God. After all, even the scriptures contain very use of analogies, parables, "types", and symbols. In at least one case that I can think of (Moses lifting up the bronze snake in the desert) the symbol was a physical symbol or type of Christ. Obviously, these analogies or parables are not completely accurate. We can't dig too far into them and expect to find accurate truth. They simply highlight aspects of God's character or illustrate some point. In the same way, we have so much art that depicts Christ in a way that illustrates a Biblical truth. The example that comes to mind is a picture of a smiling Jesus holding little children. Is is accurate? Well, no, Jesus wasn't caucasian and I am sure that he didn't wear a gleaming white robe with a blue sash. But it illustrates the Biblical story of Jesus welcoming the little children. Many people in history and even many today cannot read. In the middle ages, Christian artwork provided a way for illiterate people to be reminded of the stories of the Bible. Were they accurate? No. Were the images of Christ supposed to be worshipped? Absolutely not. Do some people worship the image anyway? I am sure that many do, especially in cultures that don't fully understand Christianity (if only they had a Bible in their language :) and so they follow synchretic beliefs that combine their cultural beliefs and aspects of Christian beliefs (often including worship of the images of a patron saint). But can images of God in the right context be used to bring glory to God and true worship? Absolutely.

To me, this is just one more area in which we have to work out our faith in fear and trembling recognizing that we as humans are not perfect and that only God is perfect.

Karate Explosion said...


quit stirring up contraversy...

Sorry, i gotta get back to my cross...that jesus hand carved for me. Jerk.

kim curry said...

Yesterday in his sermon, my preacher spoke to the literal meaning of idolatry. He gave no citation, so I cannot say that his definition comes from the original Hebrew of the Old Testament. However, the definition given is worth pondering. He said that the literal definition of idolatry was 'the exchange of the glory of God for ANYTHING'. Therefore, we are most certainly all idolaters - not because we place pictures of Jesus Christ on our walls or wear a gold cross around our neck - but because we have all exchanged the glory of God for something, mostly ourselves.

Jason, on the subject of your drawings (other artwork, computer work), I would suggest that you think about why you do these things. If it is to bring glory to yourself, then yes, this is an act of idolatry. However, if your purpose is to bring glory to our Lord, then you are partaking in an act of worship. I have to say that the artwork I have of yours remains to me a constant reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, thereby bringing glory to the Lord.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I really like your blog. I have a website on karate site that you might find of interest. Here's the link. Have a look at it and let me know what you think.