Exodus 20:4 “You shall make for yourself no idol in the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.”
• Visual representations of the Godhead prevent us from worshiping the true God according to His own revelation of Himself, but instead, offer a god of human devising.
The Lord has pointedly forbidden His people to make physical representations of Himself. Why do you think this might be?
Quite obviously, our Creator is so unimaginably greater than His creation that any attempt to project a representation of Him will fall woefully short. He is just too fierce, too immense, too magnificent, too powerful, and so infinitely beyond every superlative conceivable, to be truthfully conveyed through images wrought by human hands. In short, God does not desire images to represent Him because, by the very limitations of their nature, they will convey misleading information, i.e., a lie, about Him.
• In a maneuver parallel to the actions of Adam and Eve, the image-user is making a subtle attempt to level the differences between himself and his Creator.
Another solid reason behind the Second Commandment is the Lord’s penetrating understanding of the flesh's subtle intent to usurp lurking behind the use of images. His Word has revealed that the human heart is “deceptive above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), and certainly the person to whom it lies most avidly is itself. This is surely the reason that many Christians are so blind to the sinful nature of their impulse to produce such images. Nevertheless, the intent is very similar in form and quality to humankind’s first rebellion against God.
By accepting the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve sought to acquire an enhanced knowledge that would enable them become on par with God (Gen. 3:5 “. . . you will become like God.”). They were willing to disobey Him in their attempt to elevate themselves to a standing commensurate with His. In the same way, the creation of a tangible representation of God can be viewed as humanity making another vain effort to level the differences between itself and God. Also, one can’t fail to notice the inappropriate role reversal, wherein man, made in God’s image, attempts to make God in his own image.
We excuse this practice as it appears in books, statues, paintings, and so forth, because it is more comfortable for us to have something of a tangible nature, something more common to our earthly experience, that we can identify as God. These representations feel justified to us because they seem to make Him more easily fathomed. Yet such representations are not only false, they are a subtle effort seeking to redress the power gap between creature and Creator. When viewed this way, it becomes easy to see why the Lord would call it sin and forbid the practice.
• What about depictions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Let’s continue to expand our thinking about the Second Commandment by considering a few more questions. “Do you think the prohibition was meant apply to all the members of the Godhead?” and “Did God intend this ban to include images of His messianic incarnation?” Perhaps we should also follow these questions with, “Why would, or wouldn’t, it?”
As part of the Triune God, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit are also far above all created beings. Their artistic representation as any created being would massively fail to display Their true reality. Yet despite the dishonor implicit in these images, we wink at the overt disobedience of the second commandment when it comes to creating, harboring, and often displaying supposed representations of Jesus, Who is God.
Concerning His incarnation, the Lord selected a time in which no image would be produced for posterity. Palestine was too impoverished for paintings and sculptures except among the very wealthy, and the man, Jesus, was a humble carpenter. Photography was non-existent. The little we know about Messiah’s appearance can be found in Isaiah 53:2b (“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”), which tells us that Jesus had an ordinary appearance with nothing particularly attractive about Him physically. He was a man to be appreciated by the soul, not the eye.
Perhaps also contributing to His general purpose of physical anonymity of the Messiah, God chose to make His appearing at the navel of the earth, the land of Judea. Judea was historically an international crossroad, where all races and cultures seemed to transit, and where the full color-spectrum of human flesh could, and was, seen daily. God did this in wisdom so that all peoples could envision their Savior, Jesus, as someone with whom they could physically identify. It was His intention that there be no off-putting “Jesus” in a blond pageboy looking like “the white man’s god,” nor any “Samurai Jesus,” or “Black Jesus” to confound the sons of Japheth (the Europeans).
• Knowing man’s nature, God wanted to remove any barriers to the acceptance of His Son.
Representations of Christ have been the devil’s work from the beginning because it is his nature to deal in lies. It has always been his evil intention to alienate the hearts of people from the Savior, and what better way than to produce a substitute image that is both remote and two-dimensional? Even the use of an actor, a sinful human like all others, to portray the Christ is not appropriate. Through illustration alone, the evil one has enjoyed a season of particular success in the area of children’s Bibles and Bible stories because of the many opportunities they offer to trivialize Christ.
Within Christian children’s books, Jesus is depicted as a slightly feminine-looking man in strange clothing. At best, He is merely a storybook figure. At worst, as in The Comic Book Bible (“Updated and repackaged with a great new cover, The Comic Book Bible is filled with clever, comic-style illustrations” per Amazon), He’s competing for awe and attention among a pantheon of other available comic superheroes, many with noticeably cooler get-ups. These publications for children aren’t respectful, honoring, or holy in the way they diminish His glory, and they cause Him to appear as a subject of fiction, instead of the true God working in real history.
• Our children don’t receive the message that Jesus is Immanuel, “God With Us.”
Upon reaching young adulthood, children put away belief in Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, witches, and trolls. Should it surprise us how often our young people also put away, as fantasy, their belief in the Son of God? The diminished version of Him in popular print makes it easier to put Him aside and, ultimately, becomes a stumbling block to faith. Whenever there is a stone to stumble, one either falls, or turns away to avoid it.
I say these things not to condemn, but to point out that we need to think carefully; constantly questioning all that the common culture presses upon us. It is my desire to provoke deeper thinking and a more intentional application of the Word to real life. You may not come to the same conclusions I have drawn, but we will always have fellowship together in Him and respect each other’s relationship with the Holy Spirit.
I know, too, that the Hound of Heaven will find any He determines to seek, images or no. I only pose that through obedience to the Lord’s second commandment, we can render Him worship and prevent our lives from hindering those He would call.
Blessings to all of my dear readers throughout the world ~