Thursday, March 22, 2012
Some people are opposed to all images of Jesus. They reason that God forbade the making of images of God, Jesus is God, therefore images of Jesus are forbidden. This is a position I held when I was a Calvinist. But the idea in the commandments is that we are not to make images of God in order to worship those images. If create an image in order to worship it, then it is sinful. God commanded Moses to make a graven image of Jesus--God commanded Moses to make the bronze serpent. But this had to be done away with when people started worshipping the bronze serpent. In Deuteronomy the prohibition against images is tied to the fact that God did not take any form when He spoke to the Israelites. But Paul says that Jesus is the image/icon of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). If we were simply left to our devices we would simply make a god of our own imagination that looked like some super powerful animal that was bigger and stronger than the other gods. But God comes to us in humility. He most fully reveals who He is on the cross. And the cross is offensive. Christ-crucified is the exact opposite of any god that we would create.
Pictures of Jesus are a confession of the incarnation. If you had been there you could have snapped a picture of Jesus. That doesn't mean that all pictures of Jesus are good. It's still very possible to paint a picture of Jesus that is false just as it is very possible to paint a false picture of who Jesus is through a sermon. Some people get hung up on ethnic traits. They get upset if Jesus is not portrayed as a very Jewish looking man. But we are dealing with artwork and the purpose of artistic depictions of Jesus should not be to show us what Jesus looks like but to show us who Jesus is. Throughout history, different ethnic groups have created different pictures of Jesus that make him look like someone from their ethnic background. I think this is actually a good thing. Jesus died for us and in our place. It only becomes a problem if people with a white Jesus hanging on their wall get mad at people with a black Jesus hanging on their wall. German 16th Centurty artists would paint Jesus into a scene that looked very German and very 16th Century. Contextualization can be helpful in communicating the truth that Jesus' death is relevant to our present day just as much as it was when it happened. In Eastern Orthodox iconography there isn't any real attempt to show us in any kind of realistic way what the people looked like. Rather, color and objects are used to tell us something about the person. The people in the pictures don't look like any real human beings and they're not intended to.
It's interesting that the pictures of Jesus that people find the least offensive are also the ones that are most likely to say something truly false about Jesus and lead us into idolatry. The effiminate Jesus staring off into the distance is one of the most popular and least offensive images but doesn't really tell us anything true about Jesus. Jesus isn't doing anything at all. It's only an imaginitve depiction of what someone thought he may have looked like. It portrays Him as gentle but doesn't really tell us how He is gentle. A man at our church, as an act of love, created a beautiful wood carving of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying a lamb in his arms. The carving looks significantly different than any of the other depictions of Jesus we have in our church. It's a little more cartoonish but not in a silly way. But when my little girl who hasn't even turned two yet saw it she stood up, pointed, and yelled excitedly, "JESUS!" The other children knew who this carving was a depiction of right away as well and were very excited to see it. They recognized that this was a depiction of Jesus because the man in the carving was doing what Jesus does--lovingly, caring for His sheep. The crucifix is not a tool to show us what Jesus looked like, but to show us what Jesus does for us. The crucifix simultaneously shows us how great our sin is and how much greater Jesus' love is for us. It's easy to talk about the crucifixion in terms of abstractions but we cannot ignore reality when it is depicted before our eyes.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 2:08 PM