Idol Questions

A Facebook friend wrote:  

If being moved to worship by an image of Christ is not a violation of the 2nd commandment, what is? . . . This is precisely what idolatry is, being moved to worship by an image of a god. It is not worshipping statues. No one does that

His question and answer flooded my mind with thought.

First, “Being moved to worship by an image of Christ” may be a bit broad. For instance, suppose one sees “Christ the Redeemer” in Brazil. One may feel a sense of awe and then one may turn one’s attention to the living Christ in worship. I would differentiate this experience from the practice of being “moved to worship” by the knick-knack on one’s coffee-table. But many—whether right or wrong—make no such distinction. 

Second, the notion that “no one” worships statues per se: Granted, no one is supposed to do this but sometimes I wonder… 

I had this very discussion with a Roman Catholic priest (a friend of mine) several years ago. He explained his position on the matter of icons and the like and insisted that he doesn’t “worship statues.”  

However, I couldn’t help but wonder about his parishioners. You see, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the families within his church pass from house-to-house a statue of Virgin Mary. (It’s a really big deal, especially to the Hispanic families of his parish.)  

I can’t help but think that some of them attribute a kind of “power” to the image itself. Do they believe the statue is literally Mary? No. But they do seem to think that there is a power or essence connected to the plaster. 

Also, consider Isaiah’s words: 

And the rest of it he makes into a god,

His carved image.

He falls down before it and worships it,

Prays to it and says,

“Deliver me, for you are my god!” (44:17). 

Is the prophet suggesting that idolaters are, in some sense, attributing deity to the image? It seems so. Or, I suppose we could read this mocking passage as a reductio argument, if you will, not to be taken with “wooden” literalism. (Sorry…couldn’t resist.) 

At any rate, it is far from certain that “no one” worships statues. 

Third, while I don’t find myself doing this, what should one do who has mental images of God (most likely this would be a mental picture of Jesus)? 

Would such a mental conception be a form of idolatry (idolatry of the mind or imagination)? Is it idolatrous to “see” Jesus walking on water as one reads the story in scripture?  

Should we deem the following lyrics of the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” to be inappropriate (idolatrous)? 

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Mine eye at times can see

The very dying form of One

Who suffered there for me . . .  

Finally, what of the Apostles? Would they have been guilty of breaking the Second Commandment if they formed mental images of Christ through their faculty of memory? 

These are my idol questions. What say you? 

Published by Steve Griffin

I pastor Grace Bible Church and am the author of one published book, "God & His World: The Christian Theistic Worldview." My personal blog, "Just Thinking (and writing)" may be found here:

One reply on “Idol Questions”

  1. I’ll do you one better. There are people who worship bread enclosed in a monstrance. They believe it to be Christ; but if it isn’t him, then they are worshiping bread. It’s the same concept, isn’t it?


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