Josh Gibbs has a new post up covering our most recent conversation. I have deep respect for a man who takes the counsel of his friends and elders seriously, and since I had responded to some of his recent posts here, I wanted to thank him for that here as well.
But a few other thoughts on the general theme: First, it is very striking that these “conversions” often happen quickly after a number of months of quiet festering. What I mean is that all of the times I have seen something like this, it has been the sort of thing where a guy is first converted in spirit fairly isolated from friends and family, makes the announcement public and proceeds to be confirmed in the new church of his choice. But it’s this very process that I object to so strenuously. It utterly ignores the friends, family, and church that God has given previously. Of course there are situations where it’s happened differently, of course there have been reformed pastors and elders that should have been more faithful and loving and more willing to talk and discuss issues. But it has occurred to me that there is a very similar sort of scenario that occurs from time to time with fathers and daughters.
Imagine: A girl comes home to her dad one day and says, “I met the man of my dreams, and we would like your blessing to get married next week.” This is the first time he’s heard about it, and maybe to make matters more complicated, the dad has some significant concerns about the guy. Let’s say maybe the daughter even came to her dad at one point previously and asked about the guy, and the dad said, “Yeah maybe there are a few redeeming qualities about this guy, but I’ve got some serious concerns about this, that, and the other.” And the daughter said, “Well if you think it’s a bad idea, I trust you. I won’t pursue it.” But, as it turns out, the daughter has been seeing this guy on the sly, they’re madly in love, and now they’re planning to get married. It’s the dad’s duty in one sense to tell the daughter “no,” and give his reasons. But the more fundamental question has everything to do with trust and loyalty and love. Why haven’t we been together on this? Why didn’t you come back and ask more questions? Why have we not been discussing these issues for the last number of months? And so on. It will not do for the daughter to insist that by marrying this man she will actually be getting closer to her dad.
Which is again why I would appeal to questions of loyalty, trust, and honor. Who do you trust? Who has God given you as your fathers in the faith? Of course they are not perfect, of course they have failed in various ways, but they are your family, your people, give them the love and honor God calls you to give them.
And this is not at all a refusal to tackle the difficult questions. Of course not everyone has the time, inclination, or ability to do tons of study, but it would be far more helpful for people pondering these issues to go to their pastor, father, elders, and friends and say, “I’ve been wondering about icons, what do you think?” I for one would want to say, “Hey, that’s a long, complicated story. But let’s start meeting together, reading some books, and discussing the issues.” But it’s a little more difficult to have that conversation when someone has already made up their mind after having read little to nothing on the subject.
And actually this has everything to do with icons. The question is not whether but which. There will always be icons, but the question is which icons are most suitable for representing God to his people. God is not anti-icons. It is clear from the very beginning that he has always intended to have images of himself and lots of them. But he objects to being portrayed in ways that significantly distort the kind of God he is. Chiefly, he wants to picture himself, and he wants his pictures to be alive. He wants his images to have hands and feet, mouths and ears that work. He wants his images to speak words of comfort to the downcast; he wants his images to rebuke the foolish. He wants his images to have hands that can be used to heal and touch and embrace. He wants his images to have eyes that see the needs of others and have ears to hear their cries and respond. In short he wants images and icons that are truly like Him, full of mercy and compassion. There is absolutely no problem with venerating images of Christ in worship so long as they are alive, so long as they are the images that God has authorized, the descendants of Adam and Eve that have been remade and renewed according to the image of God found in Christ. And this is precisely what we do when we say, “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit.” This is what we do when we Pass the Peace and greet one another with a Holy Kiss. Kissing icons? You bet, so long as they are living, breathing icons of our Lord Jesus.
Let’s have generations of this kind of icon veneration; let’s have a rich tradition of honoring fathers and mothers and wives and husbands and children and grandchildren according to God’s word, a legacy of caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and along the way we can talk about the proper use of Christian art in worship (which I am not opposed to at all). But a refusal to honor and listen to the living icons all around you is iconoclasm at its worst.