You have a picture of Jesus hanging on your wall. Maybe it is not a picture; maybe it is a crucifix. When you pray, your mind drifts away to a certain godly man or woman who has inspired you; someone who has encouraged you to be a more righteous person. You kinda associate that inspirational person with God, even though they are not God.
What’s the problem? You feel that all these practices help your faith, you are more encouraged to pray, you have better focus and maybe these items and ideas cause you to have a more effective walk with God, a closer relationship with His son Jesus Christ.
And then you read in J.I. Packer’s book ,“the likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars) and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects) and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans) is precisely not a likeness of their Creator.” Then to add fuel to the fire, he pulls out John Calvin, “A true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence…His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, wherever He is set before our eyes in visible form…to devise any image of God is impious.”
That picture, that crucifix and those inspiring people…
Idolatry in Exodus 20: 35 means that we should have no other gods [little g] before us. Anything in heaven above or beneath the waters below. God is a jealous God, punishing His children for the sin of idolatry. Idolatry means anything that replaces the one true God. The fascinating thing about this commandment is that as Moses was receiving it, Aaron had fashioned the golden calf and the people were worshipping the calf when Moses arrived with the Commandments. The history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament is one big long story of a people who could not keep from following false gods. It is not an exaggeration to say that they broke this Commandment more than any other. They were not to even mention the names of false gods. They were not to intermarry with other cultures because intermarriage brought the danger of worshipping false gods. Yet Jewish history is a sad chronicle of idol worship, punishment, restoration, forgiveness followed by a return to idolatry.
Surely a picture on the wall, a crucifix and a thought about a righteous person is not idolatry.
If a faithful Christian truly thinks the objects and the person are holy, then that is where Packer finds fault. A two-dimensional image of God or Jesus is never holy. A three dimensional crucifix is never holy. Positive thoughts about a real person are just that, positive thoughts. That person is not really holy.
God is holy.
Packer’s position is that anything that substitutes for the true God can corrupt one’s faith and can adulterate the all-powerful nature of our Creator.
This is a simple example but it may help us understand. I was conversing with a man just the other day and he said that he enjoyed his trip to the Grand Canyon. Then I asked how he would describe it. He is a talkative person, never at a loss for words, but he was truly experiencing a “loss for words.” He could not describe the grandeur that he experienced. It overwhelmed him.
This is the crux of Packer’s thought on this matter. Yes, people point to Genesis and argue that we are made in God’s image. But then look in Psalms and see that His creation declares His glory [19: 1-2]. John 1:5 says Christ is “the light” of the world. John 6 says that Jesus is the “bread of life” and later the water that quenches our thirst. Revelation declares Jesus the “spotless lamb.” Want more confusion? The author and perfecter of our faith; the way, the truth, the life; the very image of the invisible God. Can you put these things on a wall?
Packer writes “images dishonor God, for they obscure His glory.” After much thought, the focus of his comment is not on the wrong we are doing. It is that we are trying to put “God in a box” and He is much, much more. We may think we are helping our faith with our images but God is far more than we can imagine and we should let Him be who He is…
Not shrink Him to fit…
Isaiah 40: 18 is a Scripture that declares God’s immeasurable greatness. It says “To whom, then will you compare God? What image will you compare Him to?” Packer says that question does not expect an answer, only chastened silence. It’s purpose is to remind us that it is impious to think that any image could capture the majesty and glory of God.
The image on the wall, the crucifix and the thought of the inspirational friend are not bad, as long as the faithful worshipper realizes that these images are only images, not real substitutes for our God and His son Jesus. Idolatry is a matter of the mind, a matter of the heart.
No true believer should give his mind and heart away to an image.
Remember, “He is the Lord your God”…
Much, much more than an image…
*My apologies for this late post. This topic has been so difficult for me. Packer’s hardline position on this subject has been hard for me to grasp. My role in writing about Christian literature is not necessarily to believe the writer, it is merely to report what the writer has said and to make it easier for the reader to understand. My thinking is that small chunks of information may help inspire someone to think about their faith, rather than a three-hundred page book which is more than some want to digest. It has taken me multiple readings and hours of thought to figure how to write on Packer’s trouble with Christian imagery, especially imagery depicting God and His Son Jesus Christ. I don’t have a problem with this practice as many Christians don’t. Finally I understand what his position is and that is why you see this post. Again apologies for the lateness.