Graven Images


Religion is man’s attempt to interact with the divine, and the constant temptation is to attempt to cut God down to a comfortable size.

This, I think, is the source of the Old Testament’s prohibition of physical images of God. Christians do not typically take this prohibition as referring to themselves: God after all was made flesh and dwelt among us. If the invisible God is now visible, one can draw a picture of him. But whether one makes an image or not, the temptation to reduction remains.

Perhaps in other ages the temptation was to make a Jesus who was supportive of the political order: Jesus as the guarantor of imperial order, or Jesus the protector of the church’s civil authority.

The idol of our day is the therapeutic Christ. Kevin Smith’s Buddy Christ, pictured above, is meant to parody the therapeutic Jesus. I don’t know how much Smith realized the effectiveness of the parody, but it cuts right to bone of so many failings of contemporary Christianity. The therapeutic Christ is also a guarantor of an order, our contemporary anti-metaphysical, highly individualistic and consumerist order.

Against the reductions of each age is the Jesus of scripture. Jesus in the New Testament did not come to reaffirm the order of first century Palestine, but to transform it. His contemporaries saw him as a prophet in the mold of Jeremiah, foretelling the cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. His followers saw him as a new Moses, fashioning a new cult, a new way of being Israel. What Jesus proposes is in a way an anti-order: permanently set against all worldly orders. Finally, they saw him as divine, the creative word of God, of cosmic – not merely social – significance.




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