The Nones Bible
“Does Religion (Specifically Christianism) Have an Image Problem?”
Or, “Does the Worship of Jesus break a few Commandments?”
I was responding to a reader who challenged my views on women’s voices left out of sacred scriptures (by the way, I welcome the constructive comments and challenges), and was reminded of something that has troubled me for many a year.
Those who worship an ancient Palestinian Jewish rabbi as God have to do a little explaining when it comes to images. Catholic and Orthodox Christians have decorated cathedrals and churches with images of “The Lord” for centuries. Countless Protestant churches do the same. How many of us grew up with the face of Christ everywhere from Sunday School coloring books to stained glass windows to gold-framed portraits at church and at home (and in some schools)?
Yet, I wonder, what if this deep need to “see God”—to stare into the face of Someone who is worshipped and even pray to that face—is not at all what was originally intended by the God of Israel or Jesus himself? What if the proliferation of images is actually a violation of several direct commands?
Before anyone grabs their Bible to proof-text me, picking and choosing verses and worn-out theological arguments, let’s be calm and clear: take a deep breath and keep in mind that I’m not “attacking” anyone’s faith, merely raising some reasonable questions.
I know this is touchy, but a closer look at The Big Ten (not football this time) may be an interesting mirror for people of faith to consider (The Ten appear in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5).
“You shall have no other gods before (besides) me.”
The very first commandment tells us a couple of things. YHVH (LORD-Yahweh) recognizes there ARE other gods, and the Lord is concerned people may choose a different one.
Then comes something uncomfortable for image-makers: “You shall not make for yourself an idol (image to worship), whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”
The next command has to do with not “misusing the name” of the Lord. Is this perhaps warning us not to call God any other name but LORD (the unspeakable, unpronounceable “I Am” appearing to Moses on the mountain)?
If you want to talk about the Lord of the Universe … you can’t … it’s impossible as well as blasphemous.
Over my childhood bed hung a picture of a long-haired white man with folded hands looking up into the clouds. I was told this was Jesus and assured this was God. Now, no one, not my parents or Sunday teachers or preachers ever said this was the “real” Jesus or the “actual” God. “He” was much bigger than a picture. Yet, I would look around my world of faith and see many other representations of what the Jesus-God looked like. If you’re like me, these images get imprinted, one could say they have been “engraved” on our brains.
Think of Jesus right now. Who do you see in your mind? Is that God? You may say, “Well, of course not, that’s just a picture.” But if that isn’t what Jesus or God looks like, why do we imagine God looks like that? It’s all we’ve been given, all we’ve been told represents God.
How does this image-problem become so pervasive?
We face a Face, but is it The Face?
If not, what’s going on? Why create an image of the imageless?
In some strict Christian sects images are not allowed. Nothing to distract from “true worship” that recognizes no pictures or forms of the divine.
Judaism itself never allows representations of the divine or uses the too-holy-for-words Name. Islam is very strict about this too. Images are not only forbidden, they are considered blasphemous. Allah (God) and the Prophet (Muhammad) are never to be visualized. This would limit and in a sense cheapen the whole concept of the Lord of the Universe. Like drawing a picture of a galaxy, a nebula or the universe itself.
After Moses received The Big Ten, the text says the Lord spoke “out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness.” The mountain-climbing prophet “heard the voice out of the darkness … out of the fire.”
Is this what people have overlooked for centuries? Some of the “saints and mystics” seem to have understood it, but most forget: voices from the darkness or whispered in fire can’t be drawn or painted or sculpted … or worshipped.
We may still wonder how Jesus would feel about the worship of his ubiquitous image. He disappeared into the dark cloud of history, while millions continue to make forms of “things in heaven and earth.”
Doesn’t it make you wonder?