Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that in your great wisdom, your Word, the Logos, became flesh and dwelt among us. We thank you that you have manifested yourself to us in Jesus Christ, the very image of the invisible God. Teach us to worship you now in Spirit and in Truth and defend us from all error. Through Jesus, Amen!
We noted last week that all of the negative commands imply positive ones which means that keeping the law always requires a heart of love for God. And love implies wisdom: hearing the “no” will lead the heart of love to the “yes.” Central to the second commandment is to the commandment to worship God in the way he has prescribed. And central to this is the requirement that we not worship God through any created image. This is not the same thing as requiring direct apprehension of God to worship him. Nor is this commandment a prohibition against all pictures, images, or creativity.
Images of God
In order to understand this prohibition against making “carved images” we need to go back to the first images ever “carved”: human beings. The commandment actually prohibits worshipping “idols” that are in the “likeness” of anything in the created order (Ex. 20:4). God created human beings in his likeness and according to his image (Gen. 1:26-27). Men and women were created to picture the Trinity. Humans are the only authorized image of God, and after the Fall Christ is the only perfect picture of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). In both of these NT passages it is important to note that the “image of God” in Christ is directly tied to his creative actions and power. To be an image of God is to be one who is graced with the gift of creativity, the power of creation, and beautification. This is one of the central problems with idols: They have eyes but cannot see, ears but they cannot hear, and mouths but they cannot speak (Ps. 115).
A History Lesson
The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church openly teach the importance of using images in the worship of the true God. In order to understand how they could think this it is helpful to remember the early Christian heresies of Nestorianism and Docetism. Nestorianism taught that Christ was a mere man who was uniquely blessed by the Logos while Docetism taught that it was truly God the Son who appeared but he merely seemed to be human and was not really. These opposite heresies have very practical ramifications. Nestorianism and Docetism both leave men in their sins and require Pelagian gospels. The Orthodox faith has always insisted that Christ must be fully God and fully man in order to obtain salvation for us. When it comes to pictures of Christ they insist that images must be used to avoid Docetism, while Protestants have tended to argue that to worship the mere ‘humanity’ portrayed in an icon is Nestorian: how can the humanity be separated from the divinity? But they do have a point: a complete refusal to picture Christ in any way does suggest that he is something less than fully human. But to insist then that his pictures ought to be worshipped and prayed to or through is still a breach of the Second Commandment. Thus, we must join the reformers in denouncing the worship or service of man made objects of any sort. At the same time, wisdom (and a certain skepticism of human nature) must be used here.
We know that the prohibition of worshipping images did not outlaw pictures altogether. There were, after all, images and statues in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 26:1, 1 Kgs. 6:29, 7:25, 29, 36). But of course these images were not for worshipping or serving and neither were these images meant to represent the invisible God. These symbols were meant to glorify the worship of the invisible God who dwells above the cherubim. The fact that Christ was really and truly incarnate does not change this (Acts 17:24-25, 29), and this is actually a safeguard for real human creativity.
Conclusions and Applications
These two verbs (“bowing” and “serving”) mean that we may not outwardly offer worship to images or carved statues, and we may not serve them mentally or any other way. And distinctions between “honor” and “worship” must be made a mile wide and not allowed to degenerate into popular idolatry and superstition (2 Kgs. 18:4). Central to the Biblical critique of images and idols is that those who serve them become like them (Ps. 115:8). Therefore, when Jesus arrives in Israel and the people are deaf, dumb, and blind, the implication is that they have been worshipping idols. This is the great danger of worshipping what human imaginations dream up and invent. We run the risk of ending up as less than the glory God intends for us. Worshipping the Creator God (as he commands) means that we will become like that Creator God, equipped by His Spirit to creatively take dominion.
God created humans to be his images in the world. He created us to be conformed to the image of Christ, the perfect picture of the invisible God. This image and picture is one that is not static. It is not lifeless like stone, paper, or precious metals. It is alive. It moves, it breathes, it acts, and it creates. This is the Triune God. Yet this does not mean that people are to be worshipped or served as idols either. Pictures and images always point away from themselves. This is why Christian worship centers on word and sacrament, Spirit and Truth. This does not pit word against image; it is obedience.
Therefore love your neighbor: how can you say that you love God whom you have not seen if you do not love your brother whom you have seen? In as much as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto Him. The reason we serve and give ourselves away for husbands, wives, children, family, friends, and the world is because we believe in both the incarnation and the resurrection. Christ means that we shall indeed one day awake and see his face in righteousness and be in his likeness (Ps. 17:15).
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we know that there is danger on all sides here. We know that we need wisdom, and we need your Spirit. You promise in your word to give wisdom to those who ask, and therefore we ask you now to give us the mind of Christ that we might serve you and worship you faithfully and fully.