During my tenure as an Episcopalian, some of my friends and I used to refer dismissively to Biblical fundamentalists as Bibliolators — those who make the Bible into an idol, worshiping it (and their particular way of understanding its words) rather than the Word of whom it testifies.
Nowadays I’m inclined to see such name-calling as not particularly useful (and not evidential of much in the way of Christian charity), but I continue to have some concerns about the human capacity to turn anything — even the Bible, even the church, even the Blessed Sacrament, anything — into an idol, misplacing our worship toward a thing that we think we can control, instead of toward the untameable, out-of-control God who is not only beyond all human capacity for manipulation, but who remains even beyond the limits of human thought and reason and imagination.
Let’s face it. Highly educated liberals can idolize their historical critical method or Jesus seminar skepticism as much as a relatively unsophisticated fundamentalist can idolize his or her naive reading of the text. So, in the spirit of Matthew 7:3-4, perhaps instead of worrying about how others might turn Sacred Scripture into an idol, I/we all need to focus our attention instead on how to approach the text so that it functions not as an idol, but as in icon.
If an idol diverts our worship away from the living God toward a useless cul-de-sac of superstition or imagined control, then an icon functions as a luminous “window onto heaven,” directing our gaze and our love through and beyond itself to that which can never be contained by anything of human design.
I think the key to understanding the difference between an idol and an icon lies in control. An idol is something we seek to control, whether consciously or unconsciously. We bargain with it, we perform superstitious rituals to gain favor with it, we decide that we have it all figured out. An icon, by contrast, is something we approach in poverty and humility, conceding that we cannot control it and instead open ourselves up to be changed, transformed, illumined by it. When we encounter the icon, we open our hearts because we seek to be made new by that Divine Mystery to which the icon directs us.
My prayer for myself, and you, and all people today is that we can encounter the words of the Gospel, indeed of all Sacred Scripture, as sacred icons, that directly reveal God’s glory (Colossians 1:15-20) or even that indirectly reveal it, by pointing out how we human beings ignore it (Psalm 137:8-9). May we be transformed by the Word that pulsates before, beneath and beyond the words.