Icons or Idols

Icons or Idols February 25, 2018

Today his family and community will begin the process of burying Billy Graham and will honor his body. This is a good and proper thing to do. We honor the body, because it was part of the man. Humans are souls embodied, eternity in our heart, but death in our immediate future.

Some philosophers have tried to slip this tension by forgetting the body and looking only to the external. We cannot live this way, because the demands of our city, the human family where we live, pull us back to middle earth from highest heaven. Other thinkers have denied the existence of anything other than matter and energy, but the existence of mathematical objects and mind make this impossible to consistently sustain. Once we strongly suspect that something immaterial exists, the elegance of the materialist solution fails.

We are animals with souls, never to be angels, but not merely beasts. As a result true religion will always be a mix of the  physical and the spiritual. The tabernacle worship God designed had bright colors, smells, bells, food, and drink. The rituals of the tabernacle pointed physically to the other realm. Ideas were given expression in art. When the people needed a healing, God ordered a snake to be raised up on a pole. If the people looked in faith, they were healed. The image was an icon of God. Like a computer icon, one used it to get to something else. The icon was not the thing, but the signpost to call up the thing needed: healing.

Despite being told not to worship images, no icon was safe from being turned into an idol. Eventually God’s people would worship the icon on the snake on a pole and forget the God of healing to whom that icon was to point. They became like the developers who become drunk on designing great icons for a game and forget the game itself only. God had the old icon destroyed, because it had become an idol.

The more iconic the greater the danger of idolatry. My Dad gave me my great-grandfather’s Bible for Christmas. When I hold or read it, I am reminded of his years of faithful ministry and tied to my family roots. Yet this too, the very written Word of God, could become an idol. This Bible is not my great-grandfather. This Bible is to be read, honored for what it stands for, never worshiped.

The temptation is to destroy all icons. We will dispense with the visible signpost and merely memorize the route to God. Yet this fails. We can turn words into idols, forgetting their meaning, and lavishing love meant for the Beloved on His Words. God help us, but even in a plain room, stripped of all art, I have seen people come to sit in just this seat and become upset when that seat is taken. God met them there and now that place has become an idol.

We cannot destroy all the potential idols without destroying the world, but that would be to destroy humankind. We are, of course, the greatest icon of God, the very image of God in the world. We can worship people as gods and turn venerable friends to idols. God help us.

The solution is the hard road of being embodied souls. We will honor our flag, our relics, and our history while refusing them the worship due only to the Good God. We will love only God absolutely, because only God can stand absolute love.

This is hard. We will constantly having to confess our idolatry. There is no real idol to the man who refuses to worship any person but Absolute Being. All being is an image of that Being. We cannot be iconoclasts in a world where God Himself sanctified the creative tension between Word and flesh in Bethlehem.

He is very God of very God and we could see His glory. See you in the last morning Rev Graham when body and soul are reunited for us all: the very image of God pointing to God in our midst.


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