“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.” (Exodus 20:4)
Forgive me for being slow on this one. I think I’m getting it.
For most of my life, I’ve not understood the gravity of this commandment, and this issue. What is the harm of an image? I know, worshiping idols is bad, because that is redirecting praise to a false recipient instead of the Lord. But i don’t worship images — I just enjoy looking at them. Even images of divine things … I don’t worship the Jesus movie. I don’t even worship the Renaissance masterpieces that depict Biblical scenes and characters. I certainly didn’t worship that “photo” of Jesus on the wall of my Sunday School room in the tiny church where I became a Christian. No harm done, right?
So what’s the big deal here, God? Simply stated, you say “no facsimiles.” Why not?
———- but there’s a deeper issue
Throughout history, our worldview has shifted between two poles, represented by two ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. In short, to be an Aristotelian is to favor the concrete, particular “things” of nature and human life as our source of truth. To be a Platonist is to favor the abstract, ideal, “perfect” truths that exist beyond our experienced realities.
Honestly, I’ve always thought that Platonism is “cooler.” Maybe because an abuse of Aristotelianism did so much damage to Western medieval theology*. Maybe because my early adult years were spent soaking in the then-current business vocabulary of “vision”, “mission”, and “purpose”. Maybe because the real world is messy, and ideals are squeaky clean. At any rate, I’ve always preferred trafficking in idealized notions to wrestling with the practical staff of day-to-day living.
Here’s my “aha”. Platonism is dangerous. And God knows it.
And, exponentially more than ever, our technologically-saturated world schools us in Platonism, indifferent to the damage it is doing to our souls.
———- the good old days
Do you ever find yourself nostalgic for the days before the flood of images? Back then I had a few pictures in some albums, taken of my own family’s experiences. We had some magazines, but not to many (and even those were designed to be envy-producers). We had TV programs, but commercials were fewer, and nowhere near as methodically manipulative as they are now. The rare treat of a movie at the theater. Listening to the crisp sound of AM radio, playing some truly rough-around-the-edges music (can you imagine Bob Dylan on American Idol?). Simple times, yes…but, dare I say, more content? And more healthy? And more righteous?
Today, my life is awash in images. I see doctored images of men and women that make me think that I and the people I know are unattractive and out of shape. I see films where fictional families and friendships are portrayed that make me feel like mine are dysfunctional and dissatisfying. I see shows that take delight in overly-criticizing amazing performers, making any local talent seem unacceptably amateurish. I watch home improvement shows that make me less thankful for the home God has given me. I watch food shows that make me less than thankful for the food that God has provided for me. I go church conferences that exalt “great churches” and make me feel like mine is an unloveable mess.
None of my local restaurants is like Iron Chef. None of my political representatives is like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. My cell phone coverage, my wi-fi signal, my internet speed … all less than ideal.
So, I’m finally getting why God says “no facsimiles.” They do us no good. Rather, they foster the breaking of the other commandments by promoting envy and dissatisfaction, followed by adultery, theft and murder. A constant barrage of images is unhealthy for our souls.
And God will certainly not be subject to some sort of image that gets locked in our minds, and becomes some sort of point of reference for our thinking about Him. It’s not so much the thing itself: It’s what it does to our minds.
Now, I’m imagining life without images. In the days before Jesus, there were no photos. Good mirrors hadn’t even been invented yet … I’d of had no real understanding of what I look like, unless someone painted me, or carved me into a statue. I could never envision someone I hadn’t met. Verbal descriptions would have meant everything … image-ination had to be constantly and thoroughly exercised every time I thought. I truly believe my mind would be sharper, and wholly less-polluted with disparate images (that we all know are almost impossible to erase from our memory banks).
I believe this is better than what we’re experiencing today. Especially because 95% of the images that are fed into our heads each day are designed to manipulate us to covetousness (aka, marketing).
As a culture, I think we’re in trouble.
———-what to do about it
Hmmm. I think I’ll do well to limit my image intake, and think more critically about the images I do let in. I think I need to realize that “virtual” interaction (e.g., dealing only with images, not with the real person) is less than genuine, less than ideal, and may be truly dangerous. I need to rethink the excessive use of images in churches – videos, bulletins, websites.
More to the point, I think I need to immerse myself in reality — Aristotelian reality. Creation. Live experiences. Live sound. What’s for dinner. Most of all, people — not through the grid of some kind of idealized notion of a good person through which I evaluate, judge and condemn my neighbor, but out of genuine love for who they are.
* (What I refer to is a codifying of Catholic theology with regard to transubstantiation of the Eucharist, a physical embodying of Christ’s leadership in the office of the Papacy, an expectation of a literal stigmata, etc.)