The Trouble with Images

idol eduetI have been thinking a lot about the Biblical Commandment not to make images. It is a commandment that we have always applied to the creation of idols, but if you examine the text, it refers not only to the making of idols but of likenesses. In his study of the power of image amongst Japanese youth, cultural critic Donald Richie notes,

“We live in such an inundating sea of images that it is a commonplace that we now look at the image and not at the thing itself. . . . A result is that essence is turned into surface and integrity vanishes. . . . We have now reached an age where we may be beginning to appreciate the biblical second commandment which, as you will remember, says that: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing.”

I think that the command not to make any images is centered around the Hebraic fixation with knowing (yada), that is to truly know God, to truly encounter relationaly someone or something wholly other. The image creates a substitute for the other, sure it is a replica but it is not the real thing. It is a facsimile of the other devoid of relationship. This is what pornography is at its core.

For a moment, imagine a culture in which there was no photos or capacity to create images. Would we have eating disorders and body dysmorphia? How would consumerism be affected? Would celebrity culture be destroyed? It is probably not a realistic scenario but a provocative one none the less.

I am going to leave the last word on images to C.S Lewis who wrote in A Grief Observed,

Images I suppose have their use or they would not have been so popular. to me however, the danger is more obvious. images of the Holy easily become holy images – sacrosanct. my idea of god is not a divine idea. it has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself.

He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme examples, it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.

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