Q. Something I’ve been concerned about lately (to the point of severe distress) is the arguments I’ve heard against images of Christ, and how that is clearly in violation of the second commandment. Arguments I have heard include that Aaron and the Israelites created the golden calf to be representative of THE God, not a non-specific pagan one and that God was clearly against ANY representation of himself since in Deuteronomy it’s pointed out that no one saw the face of God on Mt. Horeb and that in the New Testament it says that the Godhead cannot be likened unto gold or stone. I’m familiar with the iconoclasts and am very much afraid for the people I care about who genuinely love God, but have images of Christ (although they do not worship the images) in their homes. Even my church has a drawing of Christ in the sanctuary. I don’t want to be idolatrous. (I’ve also heard that to represent the symbol of the cross is sinful –I’m talking about the empty cross as well as a crucifix.) What do you think about these issues?
A. I think the opinion you’ve been taught about images is a little extreme. The golden calf represented Mnevis, one of Egypt’s gods, not the God of Heaven. There have been efforts to suggest that the calf was really a depiction of God, but it think it’s a bit of revisionism.
God told His people not to construct an idol of anything and then bow down before it in worship. (Exodus 20:4-6) The question people ask is whether making the idol is wrong or whether it’s worshiping the idol that violates the commandment. In my understanding, both are forbidden.
That said, I don’t think putting a copy of a painting of Jesus in the church equates with making an idol, because people aren’t bowing down before the picture, or considering it an object of worship. (The same is true of the empty cross, but I do believe that some make the crucifix or a statue of a “saint” into an object of worship.)
If the very picture of Jesus violates the commandment then any painting or photograph of anything in all of creation would likewise be a violation. I believe the intent of the commandment is to prohibit making a tangible object of worship.