Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Worship of Graven Images and Icons: Should we bow down before paintings or statues of Jesus?

Should Christians bow down before statues or pictures of Jesus? Is it OK to worship a painting or sculpture or statue?

The early church leader John of Damascus makes several arguments in favor of the veneration of images. Though he rejects the outright worship of images. He deals with several scriptures from the Old and New Testament given in the law of Moses and then repeated by the Apostle Paul, but indicates that these scriptures were given to the Jews who were prone to idol worship, but delineates between the Jews, and Christians.  

He indicates that Christians are more mature, and can tell the difference between venerating images and worshiping God.  John then declares that once God comes in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, apparently then it's OK to create paintings and images of Christ, because Christ has become physical, and having that physical form, this somehow allows for humanity to create images of this person and venerate those images. John also makes the argument that various biblical figures like Abraham and Jacob worshiped people and angels, and so on. John also makes the argument that since Christ is the visible image of the invisible God this can be equated with an approval of worshiping images of Christ which are the image of God, though imperfect representations.

Those are some arguments for veneration of images and icons, though they don't seem particularly compelling to me.  The 10 commandments make it clear, we should make no "graven image" of God for the purpose of worshipping it. We serve the invisible God, the God who can't be seen by human eyes. Therefore we should make no carved images or paintings for the purpose of bowing down before them and worshiping them. Never, ever do that. It's expressly rejected by God's word. 

I was raised Catholic so I was quite familiar with the practices of bowing down before statues, and asking saints for prayers, and lighting candles and placing them around statues of saints.  I rejected that faith road and became much more protestant in my beliefs, at first being quite apposed to any practice of images or icons. 

I reacted quite far to the other end, and even felt concerned of basic items like a cross in a chapel.  However my views have softened over the years.  When I pray I will often light candles and burn incense. I have various paintings and pictures around my home that depict Christ as lion and lamb.  I have a reproduction of an old painting of Christ walking up Calvary's hill. There are others as well. But I'm still quite cautious. 

I would never bow down before a painting or an image or icon. I wouldn't want to risk that it might be considered worship of some kind.  In some ways I certainly do venerate the saints and the various historical figures, but simply through their writings and writings about them, not through images or icons. To venerate means to admire, but to worship, that is something different.  Only God should receive worship.