Idols: Monsters and Hippies

When our family visits Nepal, I am always struck by the images they have fashioned as their gods. How many Hindu gods are there? I am unsure. I have heard it range from 33 million to 330 million. My uneasiness to accept such a number comes from my unbelief of someone actually counting them!! I have also heard that it is not polytheism but instead pluralism in that the different manifestations are ultimately just one and the same god. 

Anyways, I was always fascinated how grisly and dreadful some of the idols look. Since I am a Christian I realize that it is but a mere block of wood or metal, along with man suppressing the truth, however, I always wondered what would happen if these idols were to be filled with a spirit and come to life. How would these same people react? Would their disposition be the same in this state as it was previously when they were boldly approaching the thing?

This morning I was reading Calvin’s Institutes and came across a quote by Augustine (quoting Seneca regarding superstitions) that quelled my curiosity on this matter:

“They establish the holy immortal and inviolable gods in the most vile and ignoble matter, and invest them with the appearance of men and wild beasts; some fashion them with sexes confused and with incongruous bodies, and call them divinities; if these received breath, and confronted us, they would be considered monsters.”

This is how I felt in the face of a national, tangible, exotic, idol worship. These idols were formed by hand. Gods of course have to “transcend” man so their appearance so must be exotic and mystical. Everyone here is worshiping these idols, and indeed fears them, but if they were to come alive, they would be considered monsters (abnormal or deformed beings (i.e. cycloptic children, conjoined bodies, etc.). Here are a few idols I would hate to face the “reality” of: 

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My point is not to belittle their culture or religion as that country is dear to me, but instead point out the logical outcome of giving a physical form to an invisible deity, no matter the setting. These Hindu gods are not new, but ancient, so it is a matter of recreating an image into an idol; however, the idea is that the god must have physical attributes which transcends man. There cannot just be a common man. The Christian religion has been guilty of the like. The second commandment forbids us to give any form to God. Calvin states:

“God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him…….One readily infers this from the reasons that he adds to this prohibition. First, according to Moses: Remember “what Jehovah spoke to you in the valley of Horeb” (Deut. 4:15); you heard a voice, “you did not see a body” (Ch. 4:12). “Therefore take heed to yourself” (Ch. 4:15) “lest perchance, deceived, you make for yourself any likeness, etc. (ch. 4:16). We see how openly God speaks against all images, that we may know that all who seek visible forms of God depart from him.

He goes on to mention that Isaiah

“….teaches that God’s majesty is sullied by an unfitting and absurd fiction, when the incorporeal is made to resemble corporeal matter, the invisible a visible likeness, the spirit an inanimate object, the immeasurable a puny bit of wood, stone, or gold (Isa. 4-:18-20 and 41:7, 29; 45:9′ 46:5-7). 

There have been paintings and images of the old bearded man in the sky, representing the Judeo-Christian god, riding on the clouds, thundering down upon mankind, when in reality he is a Spirit. He is represented as having a body and parts, yet he has neither. Maybe a little more controversial, we have Christ hanging in photo frames in our homes and plenty of pictures of him in our books, yet we have reference as to what he really looked like. What if those drawings of Jesus or movie portrayals of Jesus were to (hypothetically speaking of course) come to life? He would instead be a feminine, wavy haired, softly spoken, perpetually serious, hippy Jesus. We would probably be weirded out by his intense stares, solemness and candor. And what about the risen Jesus? What about the depiction of Jesus that John gave in Revelation 1:12-16 that he goes on to say caused him fall at his feet “as though dead?” Where are those images?

J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, states: 

“God says quite categorically, “Thou shalt not make any  likeness of anything” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know–a human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes.”

Conclusion:

Packer states, in general that images dishonor God as they obscure his glory and they mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God. We desire to emphasize Christ’s humanity, so we make hippy Jesus. We desire to emphasize Christ’s divinity so we put a halo or a yellow bulb around his head. Yet, both of these are an attempt to create him after the likeness of manhood as we perceive it. As our children learn to worship God through supplemental books, they will most surely connect this worship with the one seen on the pages with which they read. I remember when we read aloud the Narnia series to my oldest daughter when she was five, we were all were captivated with such a great story. However, when we subsequently saw the movie, Peter Pevensie became, and now will always be William Moseley. My favorite character in the series is the noble and valiant Tirian, and I have vowed that if ever they make The Last Battle, I cannot watch it. 

At any rate, some gods would become monsters and some hippies. We want to keep our distance from both. The second commandment is there to keep a check on our ever-surfacing waywardness.