Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21
The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.John Calvin
Lesson: Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God.
We learned that representing or illustrating God through images obscures God’s glory. As Calvin says, “His majesty is adulterated.” Today, we’ll learn that images also mislead us. Images are perversions, distractions, and corruptions.
Images make a perversion of the True God. Packer pointedly notes, “…the very inadequacy with which they (idols) represent him perverts our thoughts of him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will.” Images plant nothing but errors in our minds since images are finite, lifeless, and temporal, far from the real nature of the True God of the Bible.
Packer illustrated this by stating that “Aaron, by making an image of God in the form of a bull-calf, led the Israelites to think of him (God) as a Being who could be worshiped acceptably by frenzied debauchery. Hence the “festival to the LORD” which Aaron organized (Ex 32:5) became a shameful orgy.”
We go back to the text since this is worth noting as it helps us understand Packer’s point,
Exodus 32:1-5 ESV When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”
The Israelites, even before the making of the golden calf and after experiencing God’s care and witnessing His power, acted in foolishness and hardness of heart since they gathered together and desire to create a god according to their own imagination. The following verses highlight the foolishness of their action:
Psalm 106: 20-21 - They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt...
Romans 1:21, 24-25 - For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God…their hearts were darkened…Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles…
Their disobedience hardened their hearts.
Images Distract from Truth
Contrary to the common idea that images aid a person to know the truth, J.I. Packer strongly writes, “Again, it is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior.” Images cannot bring men closer to the true God but keep them from knowing the Majestic, Glorious, and beautiful Redeemer.
Images (i.e. crucifix) also conceal the whole counsel of God concerning the Savior. It illustrates half-truths about the Messiah, the God-man, Jesus Christ. “The pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power.” To think of Jesus only as a man is not to think of the true Jesus at all. It is not the real Jesus that the word of God teaches us.
Images Corrupt the Mind
Below are two quotations that help us understand this point:
“…it is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him.”
“Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth.”
From the above quotes from J.I. Packer, we can see that images have psychological effects. When we allow ourselves to be deceived into believing that the use of images does no damage to our minds, sooner or later, we will be worshipping a god of our own making. Worshipping an idol not only damages our minds but also stains our entire person. It is a sin, which is against God and an offense to Him at its core.
- The use of images corrupts our understanding.
- The use of images can lead us astray.
- We have a natural tendency to fashion “images” for ourselves to worship…
Questions for meditation:
- Why shouldn’t we use images in worship (personal/Church)?
- Can a person who worships images say that he/she knows God?
- How do we interact with people who use images in worship?
Note: This is from our Youth Bible Study. Citations are from Packer, J. I. (1993). Knowing God. Intervarsity Press.
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