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Images of God (2)


J  I Packer explains why religious images used for worship are prohibited by the second commandment.

image

The Dangers in Images

It may seem strange at first sight that such a prohibition should find a place among the ten basic principles of biblical religion, for at first sight it does not seem to have much point. What harm is there, we ask, in the worshiper’s surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God?

We are accustomed to treating the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ as they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such ornaments than they can in churches that are bare of them. Well, we say, what is wrong with that? What harm can these things do? If people really do find them helpful, what more is there to be said? What point can here be in prohibiting them? In the face of this perplexity, some would suggest that the second commandment applies only to immoral and degrading representations of God, borrowed from pagan cults, and to nothing more.

But the very wording of the commandment rules out such a limiting exposition. God says quite categorically, “Thou shalt not make any like-ness of any thing” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know—a human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes.

Historically, Christians have differed as to whether the second commandment forbids the use of pictures of Jesus for purposes of teaching and instruction (in Sunday-school classes, for instance), and the question is not an easy one to settle; but there is no room for doubting that the commandment obliges us to dissociate our worship, both in public and in private, from all pictures and statues of Christ, no less than from pictures and statues of his Father.

But what, in that case, is the point of this comprehensive prohibition? From the emphasis given to the commandment itself, with the frightening sanction attached to it (the proclaiming of God’s jealousy, and his severity in punishing transgressors), one would suppose that this must really be a matter of crucial importance. But is it?

The answer is yes. The Bible shows us that the glory of God and the spiritual well-being of humans are both directly bound up with it. Two lines of thought are set before us which together amply explain why this commandment should have been stressed so emphatically. These lines of thought relate, not to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them.

—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 44–45.

We’ll look at those lines of thought in the next two days.



Posted 2008·10·22 by David Kjos
TrackBack URL: http://www.thirstytheologian.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/802
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Posted in: Idolatry · J I Packer · Jealousy (of God) · Knowing God · Regulative Principle
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2 Comments:


#1 || 08·10·22··12:55 || bo

Thirsty T
what are your thoughts on there being a cross displayed in a sanctuary.


#2 || 08·10·22··16:13 || David

Bo, my preference would be to eliminate all religious images and symbols; but I don't think I can support that biblically. In general, I don't have a major problem with crosses in church.

We have a cross at the front of our church. It stands there as a symbol and reminder of Christ's atoning sacrifice, and as such, it's a good thing. However, if it became a focus for worship, as the crucifix is in Catholicism, that would be a bad thing. But it never is a focal point in our worship services. It just stands there in the background, mostly unnoticed.

Also, we have a pretty good idea what the cross looked like, so we can represent it truthfully. We can't do that with God.


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