Iconoclasm (3/2/13)

Read: Leviticus 25:47-27:13, Mark 10:32-52, Psalm 45:1-17, Proverbs 10:22

Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 26:1)

Mary

Relate: Emperor Leo III overthrew his predecessor to save the Kingdom. Byzantium had been severely mismanaged and was on the brink of collapse. Arabs were at the gates with an army of 150,000 and various governors in Sicily, southern Italy, and Greece had effectively broken off and were going their separate ways. After five years on the brink of extinction, it was clear that Leo had saved the kingdom. Once that was done, Leo took on the even more difficult task of “saving” the kingdom.

At the main entrance to the palace in Constantinople stood the Chalke Gate. For at least a hundred years over this gate stood an image, an icon, of Christ. Beginning with this most famous image Leo began systematically removing the icons throughout the city and replacing them with crosses. Constantinople had become literally the most idolatrous city in the world (possibly in history) and Leo was the first emperor to try and put a stop to it.

React: I am an iconoclast. Why? For that I have to go back to Aaron in the desert. Moses had been too long up on the mountain and the people were clamoring for Aaron to do something about it. So he told them to gather their gold, made it into an image, then told the people, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” But we lose it in English. He said, “Elohim(God) Yisra’el(of Israel) alah(who brought) erets (the land) Mitsrayim(Egypt)” Elihim is the second most common name/title for God in the Old Testament and this is the exact phrase has already been used of God 12 times. Aaron wasn’t worshiping the wrong God, he was worshiping the right God the wrong way.

I can’t just worship God however I feel like it. I must be obedient to what He has commanded. To worship Him is to bow down to Him and to serve Him. That means getting my will and ideas out of the way so that He can be glorified. I hear all the time, “Well, to me God is like…” I don’t care. Get away from me with that blasphemy. It doesn’t matter if your name is Michalangelo of Colton Burpo, the only understanding we have of Christ isn’t from a thought an idea, or an image but from the Written and Living Word of God. The world doesn’t need the idolatry of a graven/chiseled/painted/sketched image of God. They need a living image that is you and me living Him out in our lives.

Respond: 

God, be ever greater in my eyes. No image could ever do You justice. Even the grandest of my imaginations falls short. You stretched out the galaxies easier than I pull back a curtain. You hold the oceans in the hollow of Your hand and all the power and greatness of all the kingdoms for all time have less impact than the dust on a scale. How then can any image made by hand ever begin to do You justice. Be ever greater in my eyes and through my life. 

 

40 thoughts on “Iconoclasm (3/2/13)

  1. Your explanation of the Hebrew in the story of Moses and Aaron is insightful. “Worshipping the right God the wrong way” — I love that. As you say, we are not supposed to point people to an image but to act out the commandments in such a way that we reflect the true Image in which we were created.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Amen. I love the way CS Lewis discussed in Mere Christianity. That we believe or not has no impact on the fact that God is. It is for us to change and come to the unchangeable Him! Prayers for blessings.

  3. Great insight on what the Hebrew actually says – it’s rarely preached this way – but the truth is there – we are called to worship God in obedience, not in ways of our own devising.

  4. Well, the acts of the sacred counsel which dealt with Iconoclasm explained well the value of religous objects for raising the heart and minds of people to God and God’s helpers, the saints (His friends in heaven). We learned that there can be a class system for how we lovingly honor those close to God and God Himself:

    Dulia: veneration given to those who have merited to be friends of God – the Saints in heaven. They have direct access to God and have proven their friendship by way of miracles answered. We lean on the Saints, who are alive in heaven, like we do a favored brother or sister or mother or father and so on. While we honor saints, we certainly do not worship them.

    Hyperdulia: this very high level of respect and honor is reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God – Jesus Christ. She will always be His mother and Jesus Christ will always honor and respect her with a special reverence. God has allowed her to appear to some in special private revelations and she lives with God, her Son, in heaven. God listens to her – she is VERY special to Him – and He hears her prayers and we ask her to ask her Son, Jesus Christ, to help us. She loves us as her own children too.

    Latria: this is worship which is reserved for God alone.

    When you see a Catholic person kneeling before or touching a statue, it is foolishness to judge them as being idolators without asking them first, “What are you doing?” To stand from a distance and make a presumptuous judgement is not right. Judging one wrongly and rashly can be a sinful and often discriminatory practice. No Catholic is ever taught to worship an object which is not ACTUALLY God. We worship God in the astounding miracle of the Holy Eucharist because we believe, by His own Word, that He is actually Present there for us – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – all of Him Present under the appearance of Bread and Wine. But that is it – and worshipping God in the Eucharist is not idolatry – it is true faith in action, that what He said in Scripture is true and that He has the power to do this and that He does do this really – true worship of God alone.

    Remember that when God became man in Jesus Christ, He gave us a way to visualize Him – He made it clear that He can be seen (as a human and as that Bread which comes down from heaven and which we must eat to have eternal life – His Words from His Mouth) and we desire to see Him as He Is. This is not a sin. It is a calling, even as St. Paul expressed that calling with deep affection. Men make paintings of people all of the time – to keep a remembrance of the person the painting represents – even if the painting is not a perfect representation. But, everyone knows that the painting represents that one person. It is the same way with images of Jesus Christ. He is really, perfectly human (which can be seen) and divine (which can not be seen).

    So, don’t be afraid that God is going to send us to hell because a holy object lifts our hearts and minds to Him or those friends, the saints, who are there with Him, saints that we respect but obviously do not worship. For God has made Himself visible to us and He knows that those who love Him long to see Him as He Is where He Is.

    • Aaron made an idol and told the people, “This is your Elohim who brought you out of Egypt.” Then he said, “Tomorrow we will have a festival to YHWH.” He, and all Israel with him were using a holy object to lift their hearts to God. Problem was, God said don’t do it. He could have used some of those lawyers from the second council of Nicea whose rationalization for disobeying God you so adequately described. With enough rationalization any rule can be bent or twisted to the point that the rule breaker can feel less guilty for breaking it. I will not question whether someone’s intent is pure or not when they worship God through an image or the veneration of the saints. I am sure it is. I will not make any statements about their eternal destiny, that is for God alone. I can only say, like Paul, that good intentions and a clean conscience are not enough. Obedience is worship.

      • BJ, we need to understand this in the proper context, including the fact that much more happened over time, in the Scriptures, including the initiation by God of the “bronze serpent” in the desert and the Incarnation of God as a Man who we could actually sense (see, hear, touch, etc), the appearances of a cloud from which the Father spoke at the Transfiguration and the appearance of dove representing the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. When God become Incarnate in Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity came together – with the 5 senses of humanity. We must consider this great and tender mercy of God moving forward. Why did the Apostles give us these images to think about and ponder? They are all images related to God, are they not? Are they not images in the most Holy Scripture which point to God? And are they not diverse? Was it not God’s Will to reveal Himself in that way? Or should we be afraid to accept the Word of God as revealed to us in writing?

        And so what happened above in Exodus is that Aaron and the people, while Moses was gone, acted without taking in to account God’s Will. How could they know God’s Will without hearing it from Moses? God had not revealed Himself, and certainly did not appear as a bull to anyone. But consider what was going on within the context of that time and then consider also what has transpired through the Will of God since that time.

        Regarding the fathers of the council as “lawyers” and as making “rationalization for disobeying God” is an expression of your opinion, but is it an expression of an understanding of the historical truths of the situation?

  5. Your inclusion of a picture of a statue of Mary is rather pointed. Catholics do not worship Mary. We do not worship statues or images. Worship is due to God alone. We agree on that. But we do venerate the Blessed Virgin and the saints. There’s a difference. This is an old debate. I stand on what our Catechism says in sections 1159 through 1162 and and 2129 through 2132. Here’s a link to a really usable version of the Catechism if you’re interested: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm

  6. Ahhh…you have shown the truth of your mission, and it is not the inclusion and love of Jesus. You are an Old Testament Christian.

    A true follower of Christ embraces the New Testament and the New Covenant, and does not wield the Old Testament like an ax above their head, to condemn those they don’t understand. A true believer cannot say that the Bible is the irrefutable word of God, and then pick and choose which parts they will embrace in their own life.

    Jesus Himself held Mary up while He was on the cross. She is a comfort and a guide for Catholic and Christian women who ask for her intervention with her Son and His Father.

  7. My intent here isn’t necessarily to get into a debate about Mary and the veneration of the saints, church history, or icons. We’re starting to move down that rabbit trail and if I have been unclear or misleading, I apologize. My intent is twofold:

    1) To understand that no image, whether made by human hands or made within my mind will ever be able to even begin to reflect the true greatness of our God. Can we agree on that?

    2) Worship is an act of obedience. We cannot simply worship God however we feel like. Many well meaning people might be worshiping God all the way to hell. To worship God in a way that is outside His character or nature is false worship and it doesn’t matter how well meaning I, or you, or some council is in condoning it. God set the standard and He is the judge.

    I respect those of you who have written in disagreement with what I wrote enough to look and pray seriously on the issue rather than just debate it point by point. I’ve said what I’ve said, so have you. I pray others reading will look seriously at both sides and dig deeply and prayerfully for themselves into the issue. If 99 out of a hundred people who read this disagree with me that is fine. I am glad if it causes them to grow closer to God in their own walk. I pray that my love for you and my desire to glorify God would supersede any need to be right.

    • I like both 1) and 2). I like 1) because we all know that a man-made image is not God and can not actually and adequately reflect who God really is. I like 2) because, in my case, the Catholic Church uses and enforces its Sacred Liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the entire world. All must use it; not even a bishop or priest is allowed to change the words on their own initiative except where expressly allowed to do so in the “rubrics.” Obedience to this requirement is to be strictly held. It is just that serious.

    • Yes, the image was inflammatory to Catholics – but what else could you do? This illustrates beautifully the power of imagery to convey meaning without words.
      Art has always been a tool of catechesis within early Christianity; Those who were illiterate were not excluded from knowing about God because they could follow the relligious imagery – the pictures. An early example of God using artist for his purpose wouldn’t you agree?Starting with the icthus fish symbol in the catacombs.
      1) Does anyone claim that their creativity is equal to God’s? No – that is not a Catholic’s understanding of it – it is a gift to use in God’s service. Could a song which tells of God lift the heart to him? So can all other types of art –
      2) One can never “worship God all the way to Hell;” that is an oxymoron – Hell is an absence or rejection of God.
      The golden calf of Exodus was a representation of a beast – the people fed up of waiting for Moses to return reverted to their old ways of worshiping the idols of Egypt ; fancied a bit of entertainment.(Like the telly in my opening paragraph)
      Sounds a bit like a pre-cursor for today’s society.
      Your implication is that religious art is evil, even though you will not admit it openly.God’s endorsemnet of Art is found in the passages of Exodus which are full of instructions given to Moses by God on the employment of every kind of craftwork for temple furnishings; including the mercy seat Exodus 25:19 – is quite specific about the carving (sculpting) of winged creatures/ cherubim angels
      There is so much ugliness in this world; and any power given to man by God can be used for good or for bad.Catholic religious art is never about Idolatory – its about using a gift God has given inhis service and to instruct the ignorant.

    • I hear you and thank you for the reply. I recognize–and even told my sister blogger–that I popped off at you. Not a very open way to respond. But I treasure my faith tradition and especially hold Mary close in my heart, and so reacted strongly to the photo. Plus, Catholics often find themselves in a place of defense with other Christians when it comes to idolatry and the Pope. I would humbly ask that in the midst of your prayer and discernment around this topic, you find a Catholic and ask them to explain what it means to them. I have found that this face to face conversation brings understanding, if not agreement, in a much deeper and meaningful way.

      • Hi BJ,
        I am not here to argue either. I am hoping to help you understand CHristianity in a broader sense.
        You would have to live the Catholic faith to understand it, but here in England Iconoclasm meant the destruction or our churches, and sacred artworks, many of which had been saved up for and bought by the congregations in thanksgiving to God. It was part of the suffering which repressed Catholicis and Catholicism for almost 500 years in ways you cannot imagine.(We were only emancipated in 1860) IYou wouldn’t get the sense of Catholic holocaust from an American Christian perspective; You know they used to dig up newly buried catholics from grave yards and burn the bodies during the protestant reformation, not two miles from where I live. England is strewn with the ruins of Iconoclism – a gerat loss to our artistic and religious culture. It grieves Catholics very much that no apology has ever been made, or restitution for the rape and pillage of our heritage.Iconoclasm is a wound that Catholics bear daily.
        I should think that you do not have the mindset of the Iconoclast, if not, you have done yourself an injustice by alluding to be one.

  8. Thank you BJ. You made your points well. Let’s not lose sight of our love and agreement of Jesus as the Messiah everyone. We all stand in unity on that. All the other disagreements should not divide us. We will be spending eternity in heaven worshipping God with each other regardless of the theological differences! Blessings!

  9. Amen. I never saw Aaron and the Israelites’ story in that light, so thank you for sharing.

    As far as Catholic images go, I understand that your post was not primarily to judge the Catholics for their religious practices, but I do see why Catholics would immediately react due to the photo you posted. I grew up in a Catholic family, but became a born again Christian at the age of 14. Even then, I did not take my walk very seriously until I graduated high school. As a young Catholic I knew what it was like to pray in front of an image AND YET not really pray to the “ivory object.” I knew who I was praying to, and there were times when I sincerely spoke with God. However, I also did not have a genuine and ongoing relationship with Him. I did not quite understand the power of Jesus’ death and how HE was the ultimate sacrifice to save me from my sins. It wasn’t so much that I was deliberately practicing idolatry; I just did not spend enough time regularly to know more about the God I pray to, besides whatever I get at the morning mass on Sundays. I still admire Mary’s courage and obedience. I admire the saints. I read Paul’s epistles and the stories of the disciples and pray that I will have the same, if not more, courage whenever I am tested to forsake my faith. However, they are not my way to the Father. Jesus is the only “way, truth, and life,” so to Him only do I pray.

    Although I am no history or sociology major (I study mathematics), Catholics here in the U.S. are different from Catholics in the Philippines. I know paganism existed long before Philippine history, but most of the natives in my country were varying pagans and animists too before the Spanish conquest. Also, some parts of the Philippines are, until this day, heavily influenced by Chinese culture due to ancient trades. As a result, many Catholics in the Philippines — while the majority follow the same doctrines from Rome — are still heavily influenced by superstitious beliefs. You may find yourself in a Catholic household and yet see RAISINS hanging on a door to “keep evil spirits away.” You may find Catholic women talking about “feng shui” in arranging their furnitures to keep good luck in and bad luck out of their homes. I have also seen Filipinos wear the rosary “for protection.” This is still very common. Like I said, it is superstition mixed with Catholicism. All of these I have mentioned, I think is idolatry, because despite their acquired knowledge of the living God they still put their faith on false gods.

    To conclude, I think the biggest issue with my generation today is not idolatry in the form of carved images anymore, but idolatry in the hearts and minds. The battlefield is in our minds: the way we think; the way we feed ourselves with worldly desires; and the way we live out our selfish thoughts. The idols are not as obvious as they used to be for Christians, whether they be Catholics or Protestants. They are not just carved images of animals or faces. They could be what we spend on with our time, money, thoughts, emotions — what we put FIRST BEFORE GOD. I very much like what you wrote: “Well, to me God is like…” It is a very dangerous line to cross: to put “me” before “God.” When we put God first, then our idols become more obvious. I feel like in my own journey this has happened time and time again. The moment I would run back to God and tune in to His will, I could very easily see what I have made into idols. It is not always easy to fight our flesh, but with God all things are possible.

    • I really like your comment, Karissa, especially the last paragraph. The real issue isn’t images or statues but anything we place between ourselves and God, money, power, pleasure, that is idolatry and it’s all too prevalent in the modern world.

    • Hi Karissa,
      when God created us, he placed within a longing to find him. That longing can become disordered when God centred faith becomes off- centre; and is corrupted with superstitious practices.
      I do not know why you left the true presence of God in the Eucharist, perhaps that is something you never took to heart as a Catholic. If you had really understood the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and the words of the last supper, you would have recognised Jesus in the consecration at Mass. It seems that you were never fully catechised otherwise you may never have left at such an tender and impresionable age. I hope you will think about your Cathlic roots again.

      • The Eucharist is a memorial of the greatest sacrifice ever made. It is a reminder of our salvation. It is not our salvation, nor is it the only place where one can dwell in the presence of God. To think otherwise would be to set the bread and wine up as an idol and to put limitations on the greatness of our God.

      • BJ,
        Christ does not lie – something I hope we both agree on?
        When Christ said ” This is my body – this is my blood” . It is on this premise of his not lying; that Catholics beleive he meant what he said… Otherwise when some followers left saying; ” This is intolerable language ” He would have called them back and said ” Hey wait guys, I didn’t mean it….”
        But he didn’t, did he…?
        This doesn’t limit God at all, it actually accepts that he can do anything – he can even be in the Eucharist.
        Have Calvin and Luther become idols whose interpretation cannot be questioned?
        I know you love Christ, but when I look at at this scripture I can’t see that Jesus was setting up idol worship, but instituting the “bread” of eternal life.
        see you in heaven I hope one dayand we will have a laugh about all the differences…
        bye

      • The Eucharist is Christ and Christ is our salvation. To say otherwise is to simply lack faith in the power of God over His own creation and to lack faith in the words of Christ Himself and to lack trust in the words of the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers who passed on to us what Christ Himself started – the Liturgy of the Eucharist – that Liturgy that the early Lutherans first protested in Germany in the 16th century (based upon an angry and rebellious disposition nearly 1,600 years AD), not for the sake of the truth, but for the sake of ridding itself of the priestly hiearchcy which had been empowered by Christ to bring to us His life-giving Body and Blood, a priesthood which had been shown not to be made up of sin-free gods who would never make a personal mistake (and so those angry rebels who can not forgive a sinless priest, the Father will not forgive the accuser – Scriptural truth). Pray for faith in God. Pray for humility. Understand that Christ did not speak lightly about what is required for one to have eternal life – that we eat His Body and Blood – that of the Word Incarnate). Read John chapter 6 and all associated Scriptural references. (find a trustworthy and unbiased translation ).

  10. Amen! and so true. I’m not a Catholic and while I don’t understand their fascination with saints and Mary I believe many have a genuine faith. However, I know even modern Pentecostal Christians have many idols we use in our “worship” of God so I see the temptation is always available no matter who you are or what your props are. No matter what tradition we come from the call to be holy in our worship is applicable. Your explanation of Aaron’s words are so insightful!
    Thank you!!

  11. Reblogged this on refusingtopanic and commented:
    I’m not a Catholic and while I don’t understand their fascination with saints and Mary I believe many have a genuine faith. However, I know even modern Pentecostal Christians have many idols we use in our “worship” of God so I see the temptation is always available no matter who you are or what your props are. No matter what tradition we come from the call to be holy in our worship is applicable.

    • Thank you for the nomination. If this was a personal blog I’d do it but since this is for Two Rivers Assembly, I’ll have to pass. I do appreciate the recognition.

  12. BJ … thanks for that wonderful post and I absolutely agree with you. But I do have a question since I dabble in writing Christian fiction and am a big fan of C.S. Lewis’s works: do you think there is any room for imagination in the mind of a Christian? Now, I’m not talking about creating idols, although if we aren’t careful, we can come awful close. Technically, wrong thoughts about God, could be considered an idol. Could Aslan–for example–be considered an idol or just a construct to help point to the real God—I think this is what Lewis had in mind. Is it okay for us to use our imagination and go between the lines of scripture to imagine what God is like or what Heaven is like? Alcorn seems to do this in his popular book, Heaven. I’m honestly not sure I know the answer to all this, but it seems that God did gift us with imagination. Now, what He wants us to use it for or how He wants us to use it seems like a fair question. But I believe in the sufficiency of the scriptures, and believe that God has provided enough revelation of Himself for us to live our Christian lives. So, I’m not advocating here that our imagination is somehow equal to revelation. Just curious about your thoughts on this. Thanks and God bless.

    • I read the Narnia series in kindergarten. It was a year later when I first read through the Bible. I can tell you with absolute confidence that I learned more, at that age, of the character and nature of God from Aslan than I did from the Bible. If I were to still know more from Aslan now than I do from the Bible than there are serious issues.

      I also write fiction and the balance between using fictional analogy in describing God and creating a false god through literature is something I wrestle with. I don’t think I have a blanket answer. I think each of us needs to judge from our heart, from scripture, and from the wisdom and advice of Godly men (or women) that God has placed in our lives what is right.

      • Thanks, BJ. I’m with you on this. I’m consoled some by the fact that Jesus taught using parables and illustrations, so I’m hoping that He is making allowances for fictional stories and characters as long as they point us to the real God and that is where we dwell. There have been some “controversies” around certain stories like The Shack, but it may have been they thought the author was going a little too far on how he respresented God and the trinity in the story. I don’t think Young necessarily intended it to be controversial.

  13. I like this message, which probably is coming to me when I have hit bottom and am scraping the bottom of the barrel. I just don’t believe in much any more, but maybe…I’m Catholic, yes, even though I feel I’ve been abandoned, I still consider myself Catholic, and am now turning to Mother Mary to intercede for me. You see, we do NOT pray to Mary. We ask that she intercede in our behalf to her son, Lord Jesus Christ. I’ll wait to see how this goes. You could say it is my last effort.

    • But why would we need for Mary to intercede for us to Jesus when God makes it clear that it is Jesus who intercedes for us to the Father? There are only two mentions of asking the dead to intercede in scripture and both times it is not good. That was one of the pagan practices that the Israelites were to avoid.

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