Images Continued

It is very interesting that at creation it was God who made the first “image.” The word for image here in Genesis 1:26 is ṣelem and the idea here is that humans, both male and female, were created as models, or replicas, of God. By implication, this means that to look upon a human being is to look upon a sort of “model” of God. The text even suggests that this idea of image includes even our physical features, for even though God is “spirit,” that is, not corporal like we are, He always seems to have an “appearance,” an appearance so bright with uncreated light that human eyes cannot behold it (Ex. 33:20). We conclude that by analogy, humanity and God share an appearance that is somehow comparable and compatible, both spiritually and physically. Of course, this doctrine of man made in the image of God is at the very heart of the Incarnation of our Lord.

This Hebrew word for image ṣelem is also used for idols man makes (Num. 33:52, II Kings 11:18, Ezk. 7:20 and Amos 5:26). The implication is clear; it is good and proper for God to make an image of Himself, but it is a perversion for man to make an image of God. What is at stake here is ownership and control. For man to make an image of God is to create God in his own fallen image, for his own fallen purposes which, as we explained in the last post, is all about magic and manipulation. This command not to bow down and serve images is a summons for humanity not to reduce God down to something of their own imagination, something they then can control and manipulate, and thus, in some strange and ironic way, become subservient to the very creature they have created.

The Church has always used art forms of every type in worship. By this we mean paintings, sculptures, play acting, and just about any way the human imagination goes. The incarnation has sanctified human artistic expression in its search for union with Christ. Of course, there are always dangers. One can carry a religious symbol and treat is as one’s lucky charm. But there are dangers everywhere, for the pagan impulse to control and manipulate God takes many forms other than artistic. For instance, one can give money in the offering and thereby believe that God is bound to bless. The underlying issue with regard to images or anything religious is a heart issue; does my heart belong to God in relationship, or do I avoid intimacy with God through manipulation? Everything else is secondary.

I have a statue of Jesus positioned on a stump of a tree in our front yard. I do not bow down so as to worship it. However, every time I pass by and notice it, a profound peace comes over me, and my love for Jesus springs out of my soul. During one counseling session my father-in-law, at the time a Methodist pastor, suggested to one grieving person to go to the church down the street and sit in front of a statue of Mary. That experience helped that person where words were not able. After all, words themselves are nothing but verbal symbols. Jesus can touch us through many ways and forms, for He is truly human, and anything human belongs to Him.

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