Sunday, October 15, 2006

Icons and Idol Factories

This year, our youth ministry is putting on the musical Godspell. We do this musical every few years, and of course one of the biggest questions is always “Who’s going to be playing Jesus?” The role obviously requires good acting skills, but more importantly, the actor himself must live a life in private—as in, when he’s not on stage portraying Jesus—that is worthy of the gospel. The build-up to the announcement, however, has sparked some other discussion as well: is it sinful to portray Christ in a physical form at all? One very good friend of mine has come to the conclusion that it is, and if he had been asked to be Jesus in the show, he would have declined. I, on the other hand, think that in certain cases it is okay. One of the key texts in examining this issue is Exodus 20:4-6, also known as the second commandment:

Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Some people make the comment that this particular commandment seems to be almost a repeat of the first commandment. I listened to Al Mohler’s fabulous sermon on this topic a few weeks ago (you can listen to it here, and find a very helpful summary here), and he made some very helpful distinctions between the two commandments: the first tells us that we are to worship only God, and the second tells us that he will be worshipped as he wants. The first speaks to the identity and exclusivity of God, and the second shows us how we are to rightly worship him.

In his last post on the first commandment (if you haven’t read it yet, click here), Josh dealt with a lot of the problems of idols. Some will say, “Sam, he already addressed your topic. This post is just going to be redundant.” But Josh was dealing only with one aspect of idols: what we identify with and spend our time doing. But there is another, more obvious kind of idol, the kind that instantly pops to mind when someone says the word “idol”: a little golden statue of a cow or Buddha or Apollo or something like that that people bow down to worship. “Exactly, Sam,” some will say, “This isn’t applicable to us. People don’t do that anymore, at least not in the civilized world.” But they do, and they do it every day, and in Christian churches across America. They are known as “icons.”

Now, I have heard several very strong arguments for the use of icons in worship, and all the arguments hinge on one thing: the icons themselves are not worshipped, but they merely provide visual aids to help us worship God. I can understand those arguments, and they have a lot of merit. However, I still don’t believe they address all the issues, and I think that the basic argument against the use of icons comes down to what Dr. Mohler said in his sermon: the second commandment shows us how we are to rightly worship God, how he chooses to be worshipped. And the way we are to rightly worship God is not through the use of icons.

I have heard it said that one of the reasons for the decline of American culture is the rise of the visual over the verbal. Our culture has become so infatuated with visual media (i.e. television and movies) that it has lost its ability to value verbal media (i.e. newspapers and books). The problem is that God has chosen to reveal himself through verbal, not visual means. In fact, he places an extremely high value on the verbal.

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God identifies himself as the Word. Not as an image, but as an inherently verbal being. And that’s how he chooses to be worshipped. He doesn’t want to be worshipped “through” something like a crucifix, he wants to be worshipped for who he is. Verbally. Worshipping him through visuals dishonors him.

Why is this important? Dr. Mohler made the point that “to worship the right God in the wrong way is not honoring to him.” As the Westminster Catechism states, the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” When we worship through icons, we are not worshipping him as he demands to be worshipped, so we are not glorifying or honoring him.

Another significant problem with worshipping through icons is that our hearts are, in an illustration that C.J. Mahaney once used, idol factories. Humans have to worship something, and thus we are churning out idols left and right. Even good things (such as relationships, computers, or music) can be turned into idols by our sinful hearts. And one of the easiest things to do when worshipping through icons is to subtly transition to actually worshipping the icons. This can be viewed in its extremes in the Catholic Church, where crucifixes are treasured and prayed to without any thought being given to Christ himself. Other denominations have similar problems as well. The majority of people in these denominations have forgotten that the icons are meant to spur on worship of Christ, and they merely worship the icon. Our hearts do this easily and naturally, perhaps too easily and naturally for it to be safe to use icons.

“Okay Sam, I agree with everything you’ve said so far,” you might be saying at this point, “but it seems like you’re destroying your own position here. Didn’t you say at the beginning of this essay that you believed it was okay to portray Jesus in a physical form?” Ah, now that is where a distinction shows up. Al Mohler made the statement that “Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, is our only icon.” What he meant is that the actual person of Jesus Christ is what we should worship, not any images of Christ, but himself as a person and as God.

However, are we worshipping the portrayal of Jesus in Godspell? Is that Jesus an image that we’re worshipping? I don’t believe it is, and here’s why: we are not worshipping the image of Jesus as portrayed by James Maresco (who got the part in this production). This image of Jesus is merely meant to tell a story, to illustrate a point. If anyone began worshipping James/Jesus, then that would be a sin. They would be breaking the second commandment. However, if people merely view James/Jesus as a vehicle for portraying a truth from God’s Word, I don’t believe this is in violation of the second commandment. The same goes for pictures of Jesus in Bible storybooks. I don’t think that anyone, even a little kid, would look at a picture of Jesus found in The Beginner’s Bible and start to worship that picture of Jesus. The pictures are merely a vehicle, a means to tell a story. The purpose is not to worship them. So I don’t believe that such portrayals are sinful.

In conclusion, the best application of all that I’ve discussed in this post here is to recognize, as Dr. Mohler said, that we all are natural-born idolaters. We are constantly looking for something to worship, and our sinful hearts loves to grab even things that are gifts from God and turn them into idols. So our first instinct must be to distrust our hearts, and constantly be examining ourselves to determine whether or not we are turning this thing into an idol. We must ensure that we are, at all times, worshipping only the true and living God, and that we are worshipping him as he wants to be worshipped.


Paulucus said...

hmm. I never thought of the issue of playing Jesus as related to the second commandment. But I think I would be offended if someone tried to play God or the Holy Spirit in a play. I agree that the commandment is talking about worship and watching a play is not worshipping (at least not in the same way). But you can not portray God in pictures or pretend to be him. That seems to borderline on breaking both the second and third commandments. I think it would be different to play Jesus because when he came to earth, he came as a man. Just as we are. "he had no form or majesty that we should desire him."

John C said...

I agree with your points about protraying Jesus in Godspell but I think that icons are the same. Icons are not meant to be worshipped in the same way that Jesus in Godspell isn't. They are made to point people to the character of God.

If I remember correctly, they were first used in the middle ages to help illiterate people think about and understand a little better the attributes and character of God.

For example, when Jesus is portrayed in an icon, he never has shadows on his face. He appears to be the source of light from which all other shadows in the picture come from.

In some icons, I have heard that when you cover up half of Jesus' face, you see him smiling. When you switch though, and cover the other half, he appears to be a stern judge, showing to illiterate people that Jesus is both a loving father and a holy judge.

So basically, icons are made to point people to what they are worshipping, not to be worshipped themselves. Now granted, people abuse them and worship the image itself but I don't think you can assume that, that is what happens the majority of the time.

I had a long discussion with Laura about this before she left for school. She has been to many different churches, including some eastern orthodox, while at school, and she said she sometimes finds it easier to worship (correctly) in an eastern orthodox church with icons.

All that being said, I personally think icons can tend to be easily "corrupted" and so I wouldn't recomend them.

P.S. I'm gonna get Laura to come comment on this blog. She knows a whole lot more about this than I do.

Sam B. said...

I sent Laura an email trying to get her to comment, so I hope she does. I'd love to hear her side of this.

Today, icons are not used to illustrate points to illiterate people. They are used, some say, to help direct our worship to God. This is exactly what I and Al Mohler believe is in violation of the 2nd commandment. God does not want us to rely on a visual image to direct our worship to God. That's why he gave us the 2nd commandment. They do point to the character of God, but their purpose is to, by pointing to God's character, lead us into worship. This was never what God intends or desires.

So there is a large gap between Godspell and icons. Godspell is merely meant to tell a story. Icons are meant to lead into worship. And God has specifically condemned the latter in the 2nd commandment.

Paulucus said...

I don't know too much about this issue, but I don't think any good form of worship can be easily corrupted. In the Bible, symbols or "icons" are used to remind God's people of things. Think of the rainbow, communion, et al. But for worship, we are to use music and words. The golden calf itself was not a new god. It was supposed to be an image of the Lord. God was not receptive to this idea. Also, think of this: when the temple was built and all of the furniture of the tabernacle, there were many symbols and pctures. There were even Seriphs. But there were never any carved, woven, or painted images of God. However, art is to be used in worship. But it is exclusively the art of music. Just read the Psalms. This does seem to be the hardest of all the commandments to apply to our lives today. There doesn't seem to be any temptation to worship or serve carved images. But we still learn a little about God's character. He says "For I the Lord your God am a Jealous God".

However Sam, I would have to disagree with your use of John 1:1. I don't think it applies. The bible does use many verbal images of God i.e. lion, lamb, even a mother hen.

This may be a helpful analogy in this discussion. We are God's creation. Images and icons are our creation. If we worship him through these imaes, we worship a god that the artist imagined. And we know that no one can see God and live. Should we then leave it to human creativity to paint us a picture of our Holy God? I think we may be losing our grasp on how Holy our God is and the reason he gave us this commandment.

Sam B. said...

What I meant in my use of John 1:1 was that God identifies himself primarily with the verbal over the visual. He uses visual metaphors to get across specific ideas about himself, but he is still predominately verbal.

I really like your analogy, I think that's helpful.

Peter Wilson said...

Look to the scriptures and you will find many different methods of worshipping God (i.e. giving of tithes and offerings, singing, etc.) But the use of images of God is never one of them. The use of icons is never biblically endorsed and I think is in fact explicitly opposed by passages such as the second commandment. Honestly, even if scripture did not explicitly oppose the method, the fact that scripture fails to endorse the method would be enough to convince me that it is not a legitimate method.

And that is the reason that I think using images and icons cannot only become corrupt, but is a corrupt form of worship in itself.

And this is my personal take on the issue. The use of images and the like is the method of worshipping idols and to worship God in the way you worship an idol is to treat God as if he were a dumb idol. The way that we worship God reveals how and what we think about God and to worship him as an image is 1) to treat him like a dumb image 2) is disobedient to his law. God has revealed himself through his word and not through his image and we must not dare to pretend that it is otherwise as we worship him.

Paulucus said...

Good point Peter. As Dr. Mohler said, by worshipping God through images we treat him like an idol.

John C said...

Good points. I have not really thought about this alot so I'm not going to be proud and try to counter your arguements. I honestly don't know. I agree with all you guys are saying but I know my sister has thought about this alot and I would like to hear her thoughts as well

I'll keep bugging Laura though until she comments. :)

It's so great to see all you guys have strong convictions about this kind of stuff and can defend them from scripture. The world, especially our country, needs more men who are holding fast to God's word. I really respect you guys (especially Sam and Josh for hosting this blog).

Lets change the world guys.

Oh, Josh, didn't you say you commented on some atheist's site the other day. Can you post the link so we can all read it and comment in the future.

Laura C said...

Hi, guys! Chipping in with my two cents here:

I appreciated your post, Sam, and on the whole I agree with the concerns you raise. I would offer two points in response, though, that make things a little more complicated than you described. These points might cause my application of the principles you expressed to differ from yours. The one has to do with the nature of thinking in general, and the other has to do with the specific nature and use of icons.

The first point I can express best by quoting at length from C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. He is answering people who disdain Christianity as childish because some Christians picture their faith in childish ways, such as envisioning God as a big man with a beard sitting on a throne in the sky. Lewis writes, “Some people say, ‘In that case, would it not be better to get rid of the mental pictures, and of the language which suggests them, altogether?’ But this is impossible. The people who recommend it have not noticed that when they try to get rid of man-like, or as they are called, ‘anthropomorphic,’ images they merely succeed in substituting images of some other kind. ‘I don’t believe in a personal God,’ says one, ‘but I do believe in a great spiritual force.’ What he has not noticed is that the word ‘force’ has let in all sorts of images about winds and tides and electricity and gravitation. ‘I don’t believe in a personal God,’ says another, ‘but I do believe we are all parts of one great Being which moves and works through us all’—not noticing that he has merely exchanged the image of a fatherly and royal-looking man for the image of some widely extended gas or fluid…. For images, of the one kind or of the other, will come; we cannot jump off our own shadow.”

Lewis’s point here is part of a larger observation about the nature of human thought in general, namely, that we always think in terms of some images or other. All our abstract language was originally a metaphor of some kind (think of such phrases as “I see your point”). An iconographer who visited our school once commented that, since we can never do without images entirely, to try to reject them is merely to forfeit all choice over which images will influence us. Instead of the riches of ages of carefully-crafted symbolism, we condemn ourselves to the unnoticed and unimproved fancies of our own brains, which are often informed primarily by secular culture. (I have only recently realized how much I subconsciously picture God as a divine businessman or boss, no matter how hard I try to do otherwise.) At least with obviously symbolic representations, like icons, people are more likely to recognize that the real thing is not like that. (No one thinks that Christ actually has Greek letters floating around His head, like He does in the icons, where those letters spell out the name “I AM.”) And that brings me to my second point:

Icons themselves represent part of a larger tradition of intentional symbolism that the church has developed over time precisely to replace these misleading “unintentional” mental images. I can illustrate this point best with a story. Last April, at a Good Friday service in town that I attended, a well-meaning speaker asked us to do a visualization exercise, where we started by imagining our “favorite picture of Jesus (perhaps a childhood Bible picture, for instance), with a very nice, dear face,” and then used that to help make the story of the crucifixion more graphic in our minds. (I don’t recommend the practice, but that’s another point.) Now, because I had been having many conversations with friends at that time about icons, the first picture that came to my mind when he said that was the iconic representation of Christ. I realized, though, that I could not use an icon for that visualization. I could not mistake that symbol for what Christ really looked like—the icon didn’t “look like” a real person in that way at all. Instead, it was “written” (how the Orthodox talk about painting icons) in a language of visual symbols: gold to represent divinity, shadows placed to show the light emanating from Christ Himself, mixed expressions on His face of judgment and mercy, etc. You cannot look into the eyes of an icon to satisfy the longing to see Christ Himself looking back at you. (In this way, I disagree with Sam—I think the Bible storybook pictures are actually more likely to be harmful than intentionally symbolic art.) A friend of mine once suggested, as a hypothetical definition of “idol,” that an image becomes an idol when we are satisfied with it, such that we do not feel the need to think about God in other new ways, new images—when we say of an image that “God is this (and nothing else).” I don’t know yet if that definition holds up to thorough scrutiny, but it does help express this idea.

Another point that bears mentioning is that the Eastern Orthodox agree with you about not representing God Himself. It was one of the main conclusions in the iconoclastic controversy in the church of the A.D. 700s that only Christ could be represented, precisely because He had once been made man. The Orthodox would never represent the Father or the Spirit in human form, for all the reasons you give. (They might represent the Spirit with a dove, but not in a literal sense.)

Also, it is worth remembering that the vast majority of Orthodox icons are of saints, who were certainly “fully human” and therefore able to be depicted. These icons are obviously not meant to be worshipped. Instead, they are a very powerful reminder to those worshipping that they do actually stand amongst the company of God’s people of all ages, and not just in some sentimental sense, but literally, from the perspective of heaven. In this way, I have indeed enjoyed worshipping in Orthodox churches at times, because of the way that everything in the building helps direct my attention back to the God I am supposed to be worshipping. One’s physical surroundings in worship do matter, more than we tend to admit, I think. Obviously we should not depend on having nice surroundings to be able to worship God—but when we can make our surroundings contribute to our worship, surely there is nothing wrong with trying to do so! I have to ask, in some modern churches, “What am I saying to my soul by intentionally making my church look like a place of business?”

I don’t agree with all the ways in which the Orthodox express their understanding of icons (although even a practice like kissing an icon they see as something cultural, which they compare to the respect with which one would treat the photo of a loved one, as representing the person himself). But I do think that the Orthodox church takes into account many important truths (such as man’s inevitable tendency to think in images) that we tend to overlook too quickly.

Finally, a response to the “visual over verbal” question:
Although I have heard and appreciate the “visual over verbal” comment about modern culture, I think it is too simplistic to say that Christians are meant to be merely rational, verbal creatures, by contrast with the sinful “visualistic” world. That is the first article of faith of the Enlightenment: that man could express truth perfectly adequately through verbal reason. The fact is, while Christianity believes strongly that there is the Word who gives meaning to all things and is the source of order in the world, our individual human words do not ever capture or express that meaning perfectly. In a culture where there is an overemphasis on visual images (of a highly emotional sort, too, such as TV and advertising), it may indeed be necessary to re-emphasize the verbal by contrast, but it is equally true that a culture that stresses the sufficiency of verbal discussion to express the whole of the truth might need to be reminded occasionally that some things are too high for words to express them. For these, sometimes the best way to express them is in a picture, which can speak to the heart things that the head cannot understand.

~Laura C

P.S. to Sam and John—sorry not to have replied sooner, I have a paper in the works, as well as other college adventures. Sorry also that this is so long, but you did ask. :-)

Josh T said...

Sorry Laura, I'll read your comment later... :-) If you already said this, let me reiterate it...

I think there is a distinction between portraying Jesus and creating icons to help us worship God. I think this distinction is this: Icons are trying to help us to worship an infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent etc. God. Icons cannot begin to truly show us who God really is.
The difference is this: Jesus was God become a man. The Son "gave up" some of His attributes such as omnipresence in order to be a man. I believe it would not be wrong to portray Jesus in a play/movie. I do believe we should be very careful what we do try to do to portray him. If we begin to have tons of "pictures" of Jesus, I think we could tempt people to think of Jesus as the dude in the picture, and not as the Savior of the world. I might even disagree with Sam that little kids don't worship pictures of Jesus in their Bibles. Sure, they might not actually WORHSIP the image, but they may begin to think, "Yeah, that there is Jesus."

So, I think that in cases such as Godspell, it would not be wrong to portray Jesus, but I also think that we should be very careful when we are portraying Him, and should be careful of how much we are portraying Him.

And John, the site that I posted on, was some xanga about the Bible in which they were arguing against the validity of Scripture, and so on... They've recently posted something new.

Peter Wilson said...

Allow me to begin this comment by telling my position on the use of art as a means of worshipping God. I think that art in its very essence was meant to be a worship experience and is intended to draw ones affection to God as icons are meant to be. In that sense I do not think that icons are inherently wrong. What I think is inherently wrong about the use of icons is that they are used as a means of corporate worship and not private adoration. It is not wrong to portray a saint or biblical figure in the act of doing some good or another. But when it becomes involved in a corporate form of worship it will take a place of prominence in the deceitful hearts of simple-minded people (meaning all people) simply because of the fact that the church is endorsing it to the congregation as a whole. This subjects it to the abuse of blatant idolatry that is almost entirely absent in the context of private, individual adoration of the work. Art is only ever intended to be a cause of worship-- never an object of worship and I would venture to say that neither should it be a means of worship.

That being said, I do not think that worship and art should be entirely separated from eachother. In fact I think that they should be closely tied in the sense that all art should lead us to worshipping God.

Also, allow me to elaborate on the dangers of insituting the use of images in the context of corporate worship. The use of icons as a means of corporate worship has lead to some of the greatest humiliations and deceptions that is still present in the church today. Remember the incident with the grilled cheese sandwich with the image of Mary burnt into it. In case you don't remember, the incident was the a woman made a grilled cheese sandwich and the burn patterns made the image of a woman who the would-be-consumer claimed was the image Mary. She went on to sell this sandwich on eBay for several thousand dollars ($28000 if I remember.) Another particular incident of the church's humiliation would be when an Eastern Orthodox priest (is that the title their clerics take?) noticed after a particularly rainy night that a pattern of mildew had formed and seemed to form the image of a cross with a man hanging on it. He then proceeded to lead his congregation to pray to this image of mildew.

The mindset leading up to this abuse of imagery may have seemed innocent when in the earlier stages of the process. But the fact is clear that underlying those two instances of buffoonery is a history of instituting images as a form of corporate worship. Even if the use of icons and imagery is not inherently wrong in the corporate context, it should be clear from historical events (and lack of biblical support for that matter) that it is dangerous when instituted into corporate worship.

Furthermore, the fact that it does not seem to have very strong, if any, scriptural support, puts it on the weak end of the argument.

I think if anyone wants any clearer understanding of the issue, you should listen to Al Mohler's message that Sam linked. It is a great message and I think will bring some clarity to some of the issues.

Boy I hope I didn't say anything dumb in there.

Anonymous said...

Sam...consider your Wildandcrachsnoot years in puppet ministry. For years, we refused to use "God" or "Jesus" puppets. We felt that making an image of God was blasphemous...considering how ugly they are. Whenever God or Jesus had something to say, we had a shadow of a cross or made the bushes jiggle or had a thunderclap or something random to represent him. This is rather difficult since all of the shows are about God or Jesus. It was confusing.

When another church asked what puppets they should purchase, I considered the Jesus puppet, threw all of my experience away and suggested they buy it. Why should we force people to maintain an abstract image when they can clearly see the visual?

All of creation is visual. God didn't make it black and white. He made it to be absorbed by our senses. Sit and watch commercials for awhile (don't watch some of them). Evaluate them critically. A good commercial doesn't drone on with a list of attributes of the product. An effective commercial says almost nothing, but visually communicates every point...and sometimes enlightens the audience to things they have never considered in a way they will never forget.

The gospel is the same way. We can read it. We can hear it from the pulpit every Sunday. But, sometimes the visual image enlightens us to thoughts we had never considered and things we can never forget.

I believe God would want us to use all of the magnificent senses he's provide us. We're not going to worship the puppet, but we will understand the story.


Sam B. said...

I don't deny that the visual is important and a gift from God. However, how was the visual created? By the verbal: "God said 'Let there be light' and their was light." When one thing creates another, the creator has authority over the creation. God clearly intended the verbal to be the more important thing.

However, we are a very visual people, and it is not wrong for us to require visual media to help us understand things. This crosses the line when we are using the visual as a means to our worship, rather than just something thought-provoking that illuminates a truth about God to us. That's the distinction I'm trying to make.

Thanks for commenting, Mrs. Tucker!

Paulucus said...

Worship is the act of telling God what we think of him and declaring his glory to the world. You CAN NOT DO THAT WITH PICTURES. You can do a lot of other things with pictures (things that many people seem to be confusing with worship), but not worship. I know that worship can be defined as everything we ever do to honor God, but that is a useless definition for the sake of this argument and is obviously not what the Bible is talking about.

Laura C said...

Paul, I would have to question that definition of worship, i.e. "the act of telling God what we think of Him and declaring His glory to the world." I question it because it seems to come dangerously close to making worship dependent on our ability to think right thoughts about God. I know we often picture it that way. We envision worship as a matter of us being affected by truth and feeling proper gratitude for facts that God has done for us. The more I learn about worship, though, the more I am inclined to think that that definition is dangerously incomplete. At the very least, I know it is at odds with the way the majority of the church has pictured worship throughout history. Historically, worship has consisted primarily of confessing truths (the Creed) that are admittedly too high for the human mind to understand fully, and of participating in the mystery of the sacraments (which also was seen more as an act of God in man, accepted by faith, than as something that a person could think about adequately on his own). This idea that worship is measured by its ability to affect us, or that worship consists of our understanding our God, is a recent development, suitable to a scientific age that just assumes that man is able to think his way through life, without recognizing that some truths are mysteries too big for puny men to wrap their minds around them. There has to be some place in our Christian lives for acts of simple adoration, where we adopt a posture of love and submission towards God with our hearts and bodies as well as our minds and simply acknowledge God as God and us as His people. I am concerned that modern times of worship often become just another time for spiritual instruction in a different form. Certainly we can benefit from many different forms of spiritual instruction, but when they replace completely the practice of humble adoration in our lives, where can we turn for this other, vital part of Christian life?

Incidentally, if worship is a posture of adoration rather than just another act of understanding and exposition, pictures (helping to focus our wandering, sense-oriented minds on the Unfathomable, Intangible Mystery that is our God) might not be as useless as we would otherwise think.

And if I misunderstood what you were saying in your post, I do apologize; I am writing this rather late. This issue of worship is just one that I've been thinking about a lot lately, especially this dilemma of redefining “worship” as understanding, leaving no categories for the older, confessional, adoration-focused worship.

Anyway, hope that was interesting, at least!

Paulucus said...

Of coures! I do believe that in worship we MUST have right thoughts of God. In fact, that is the whole problem with pictures. The lead us to think big thoughts about God, but not right thoughts. That is the problem with the golden calf. It was a statue of God (if you don't believe me, read for yourself. And if you don't interperet it that way, read a commentary). This statue was a symbol of strength. Of course God is strong, but he does not want to be worshipped that way. The Psalms are also a good model for worship and I have neither the time nor knowledge to go through all of those. But none of them indicate any favor toward visual worship aids, and none of them are theologicaly inaccurate. When I say we must think right thoughts about God, I hope you don't take the jump to assume that I mean we must understand him fully. Yes, we are instructed through worship. And yes, it is an expression of gratitude and adoration. And yes, we mut think right thoughts of God (that is why it is important to have theologically accurate lyrics).

John C said...

Maybe I'm just dense...but how can an image, icon, or Jesus in Godspell, stir your mind to thoughts of God without becoming the "means by which you worship". It is the thing that is leading you to worship so what is the distinction.

That being said. How can we portray Jesus in Godspell without crossing that line?

Paulucus said...

This is great!

Peter Wilson said...

I agree with Paul. The truth is that how we think about God will affect how we worship him whether we are willing to admit it or not.

True, there must be room for simple adoration of God. But the adoration of God MUST not be from a simple understanding since we know that someone who thinks simple thoughts about God will be easily deceived about God (our hearts are great deceivers). So our simple adoration must come through a correct knowledge of him.

Worship is not another time for instruction (although it does very effectively serve as a great reminder of God). It is to be an expression (and a correct expression at that) of who God is. That is why it is necessary for us to truly understand who God is for us to worship him-- because we will never be able to express who he us unless we rightly understand who he is. But our worship is not dependent on our "ability" to think right thoughts about God. It is dependent on God's revelation of himself to us (and note again that God never revealed himself in an image but by his word). And God has always revealed himself correctly yeilding correct thoughts about him culminating in appropriate worship of him.

woodi said...

I don't mean to be shallow, but doesn't it boil down to:

Wrong- Worshipping the song or ___

Right- Worshipping through the song or ___


Paulucus said...

That's not shallow at all. Simple never means shallow. I think what you said is true. But it's not what we (at least I) are(am) talking about. The issue is whether the use of images (or images that represent God or an aspect of God) is apropriate in worship.

woodi said...

Define "in worship". Are you saying that to worship we need words? So painting cannot be woshipping? Or are you getting at something else?

Laura C said...

Just to clarify, since my last post seems to have produced some serious confusion--I agree entirely that our worship of God must reflect, express, and be informed by the truth about God, who He is and what He has done. I also agree that we can know many things truly about God, although I would be concerned if we started to insist that we understand God completely as He is in Himself. As for the use of any kind of images at all, I am still learning about it, and finding the discussion on this blog interesting for that reason. In my post above, though, I was just trying to say that the idea of "worship" should include more than a rehearsal of facts as we understand them, not less. Sometimes we do have to worship in spite of our ignorance (though obviously ignorance is not to be prefered). It seems that our definition of worship should be broad enough to include adoration in those contexts where God's truth is too high for us to understand.

I apologize for misspeaking before and hope that I have not caused too much confusion.

Peter Wilson said...

okay that makes sense. And I think I agree with you on that point. God's mysterious character is something that he is to be worshipped for.

Lizzy said...

Wow. Very interesting discussion. Still sorting through my own thoughts on this. For pretty much as long as I can remember considering this matter I've believed that the use of icons in any way, shape, or form, is wrong and contrary to Scripture, and honestly I'm not sure that view has really changed that much throughout my reading of this. (I do agree, though, that there is a difference between portraying Jesus in a play, et cetera, and portraying God.) There are many dangers involved in the use of icons, but it seems to be mostly about trusting our own hearts too much ("the heart is deceitful above all things!") and limiting God to our own creations. I'm not gonna take the time to expand on that right now as it would prob. just be a reiteration of what's already been said.

One question though, what exactly is the debate right now? I'm a little confused. Seems like the discussion has been kind of side tracked. (But then, it could just be me being dense.)

(Speaking of sidetracks.:D) I read some of the discussions on that site (that Josh provided). It seriously made me cry. Not nearly so much at the views of the atheists (etc.), but at what most of the Christians were expressing. It is incredible, isn't it, the grace that God has poured out on our lives? I so often forget that we have such a different experience of church and learning about the Word than so many other Christians.

Lizzy said...

p.s. this is Lizzy S.

John C said...

Diddo to what Liz said about the atheist's site. We really should watch what is posted on that site and comment when we can.

Also, Pedro, I listened to Al Mohler's message on the second commandment. If anybody wants more "food for thought" I would strongly recommend it.

Peter Wilson said...

Mr. Mahaney is speaking at the Southern Bapties Theological Seminary soon. I can't wait!

Sam B. said...

You know, John, I did link to that message in my post. I based a lot of this post on the content of that message (which I'm sure you noticed). Everybody should listen to it!

Lizzy said...

Yes, just listened to it yesterday. Wonderful message. (I want to start listening to more of his speaking.)

This was very clear and helpful:

We must be VERY CAREFUL that the visual never eclipse the verbal. [Now I understand what you meant by that, Sam. Was a little confused before.] The visual lies because it cannot represent the infinite beauty of God. [Yes! Love this point!] We are to make no image of Him. We should paint no pictures of Him. If we were to know the visual image of Christ, He would have left us His visual image. He did not. Every visual portrait or picture of Him is a lie, and as a lie, it robs Him of His glory.

The worship of icons is wrapped up in the foolishness of the same lie. It is not true that the means of connecting with God is through the meditation on the visual.

And I really liked the point He made about Christ as our icon:

But it is true, that even as we are to avoid icons, we do have one icon. It is true that there is one icon that is the object and the focus of our worship, the means of our worship indeed, and that is the icon that is Jesus Christ. “HE is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…” Christ is in and fulfills the second commandment, because He, the image of the invisible God, is the icon whom we ponder. But even as that icon he is not a visual image for us, and thus this commandment is also for us, lest we turn our worship of Christ into another form of idolatry. We preach Christ crucified. We point to Christ in His glory, preach the cross, teach and preach all the things concerning Christ, and we use words.

Peter Wilson said...

Come on man. What happened to "every monday?"

Josh T said...

Peter, unlike you, I have a life. Thank you. And there's your post. :-P