Kids don’t always understand why they can’t draw pictures of Jesus. “Look, it’s God leading His children,” a kindergartner said, drawing crude sketches of “Jesus” and “God” most commonly portrayed in western history with long, brown curls and other romanticized attributes. It seems kids’ minds, no matter how young, are filled with pius images God calls idolatry.
I remember being young and thinking Jesus had soft brown curls, and a lovely body and face. Most commonly, I thought of him in the shepherd scene tending His flock. When I prayed, I imagined an equally fictitious image. (Isaiah 53)
When I tell kids, “Don’t draw pictures of God,” my mind goes back to the days when I was small. The imagery of God was a very emotional part of my worship and communion with Him. I talked to Him thinking of Him as a person, seeing His face that I have never seen, looking into His eyes that are only the conjure of my soul.
Why can’t I draw pictures of Jesus ? Why can’t I hang a man-made artistic portrayal of His body in my house? It is definitely heartfelt gesture. It seems if I have “Jesus” staring at me in my hallway then the boogie-man won’t get me and I’ll be less inclined to sin because He (in the image) is watching me. When I cry out night, shouldn’t I be able to look at the picture of Jesus and He can make it all better? Oughtn’t I have the right to look at the naked crucifix on my wall and let my sinful guilt lull me to sleep?
The simple answer to why not is because God says “no.”
His second commandment: “Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shall not bow down thyself to them nor serve them. For I the Lord thy God is a jealous God. Visiting the iniquity of the Fathers, unto the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And showing mercy unto them that love me and keep my commandments.” Exod 20: 4-6; Deut. 5:8.
To quote BibleHub on the second commandment:
In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this [the second commandment], worshipping the true God in a false manner.
The first commandment is: “Thou [you] shall have no other gods before Me.”
Influential 16th-century French theologian, John Calvin, concludes the first part of his consideration of the second commandment with this thought:
We defile ourselves with abominable lusts, and especially when the worship of his Deity (which ought to have been most carefully kept unimpaired) is transferred to another, or adulterated with some superstition; since, in this way, we not only violate our plighted troth, but defile the nuptial couch, by giving access to adulterers.
Calvin biblically compares our relationship with God as a relationship of a husband and wife. * Therefore, the superstition or defilement of God’s image as drawn in man’s ways, is defilement of Christ. It is graphic adultery.
(* “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God.” Isaiah 54:5,6. The Lord says this to the comfort to the children of Israel in captivity, placed there because of their sin. Of course, this is not true for one race. Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, says that “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.“ Galatians 3:29. Spiritually, those who believe in Christ are of the children of Israel.)
As if it can become any clearer, God gives us specific examples: “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.” Deut. 4:15, 19.
This isn’t extremely helpful, of course, if we are not sure what a graven image is. A quick search on Goggle will suffice:
Graven image: noun. ‘A carved idol or representation of a god.’
So the very representation of God is forbidden.
Objection: Why can’t we have a painting of Jesus and not worship it?
Reply: Again, the second commandment:
“You shall not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of heaven above, or in the Earth beneath, or in the water under the Earth.”
There is no wiggle room. Now, some say that images for worship are different than regular spiritual images. They say images of Jesus in their homes is fine because their knees are not physically touching the floor in worship as they looking at the painting.
There are multiple directions this answer can go, so I’ll write them numerically. 🙂
(1) Again, God said no graven image. A graven image is an image of God. There should be no image of God. Jesus is God. “Christ Jesus, Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Phil. 2:5,6. An image of Jesus, extremely common in Christian art, is a graven image because Jesus is not only fully man, but also fully God.
(2) We are sinful flesh (Gen.3) and everything we touch is defiled. Moses could not even see God’s face, lest he die. (Exodus 33). It was too glorious to be seen by sinful man. Are we holier than righteous Moses?
(3) “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Acts 17:29. The art and imagination of man. Are we so fickle to think we can form God to canvas?
(4) “You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 26:1.
An image is likened to an idol. So exactly what are these idols like?
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
Any image of God is lifeless. It is, by His definition, an idol.
(5) Lastly but not leastly ( 😉 ) we worship God by how he wishes us to worship Him.
So how does God want us to worship Him?
Psalm 29 beautifully describes the true worship of God. It is something done in a church, but with the human heart. Not with the eyes.
Psalm 29 New King James Version (NKJV)
Praise to God in His Holiness and Majesty
A Psalm of David.
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
2 Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.
The Lord is described with words. We do not need images of Him. His character, His being is enough.