Question: Regarding the May TBC article on "An Exercise in Discernment," the scriptures in Exodus:20:4-5 and Acts 17:29 say that the Lord is against anyone attempting to make an image of God. We are grandparents and have given Christian children's books about Jesus. The books have images of Jesus. We also have a Nativity set with an infant Jesus. Missionaries are using the Jesus Film to explain the gospel in rural third world nations where there are no Bibles in their languages. We want to be obedient to the Lord's Scripture. What do you suggest we tell our grandchildren?
Response: Most of us are no doubt familiar with the analogy of a frog in a pot of water. As the heat slowly increases, the frog, a cold-blooded animal, doesn't notice it and ends up being cooked to death. In a Christian culture, certain seemingly insignificant things creep in from the world that don't appear to be contrary to Scripture, and they slowly increase and become acceptable over time. Religious art has had such a development in church history, in particular in the acceptance of icons by the Orthodox Church and the proliferation of statues and paintings in the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Bible was not the final authority of eitherof these churches, both of them disregarded the biblical prohibitions against such imagery. Centuries later, it is common for evangelicals to fully accept "religious art" as something useful and even helpful for "meditating" on the Lord.
All of that goes to say that although artistic depictions of biblical characters and topics have been around for a long time and have increased in our visually oriented culture, that still doesn't give it the support of Scripture. An image of Jesus has serious problems: 1) Scripture prohibits it (Exodus:20:4-5; Acts 17:29). 2) No representation of Jesus, the God/Man, can accurately portray Him. 3) All such images of Jesus are false images. 4) Art is a subjective form of communication and unless it is ordained and directed by God (Exodus 31), it is a fleshly misrepresentation of what is presented in God's objective Word. Even when God has ordained something for a specific purpose, man has used it for idolatrous purposes, such as the bronzed serpent (2 Kings:18:4). Centuries of the idolatrous imagery of the Catholic Church have been a major catalyst for all of its many superstitions.
There is a vast difference between generic representations of Jesus (for example, the characters on a flannel board) used for the purpose of teaching young children who don't have the ability to read or write, and a detailed painting or sculpture purporting to represent our Lord, as is so often seen in contemplative practices. Children don't seem to "cling" to the flocked figures as idolatrous objects. But we must remember Paul's admonition: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). When your grandchildren are old enough to read the Bible, that is how they should be taught—by the Word of God itself. Pictures may attract and entertain children, but they do not teach objective truth. Today's animated and cartoonized characterizations of Bible stories seem increasingly objectionable and offensive—regardless of how cute and clever and well-produced they may be.
The same may be said for attempts to translate the Bible into a movie. No matter how sincere the attempt, it will always be a corruption of God's inerrant Word, replete with images conjured up by fallen humanity.
What should you do? Ultimately, each of us is accountable to the Lord for our position and beliefs. Romans 1:17 tells us that the just shall live by faith. The challenge is before us to apply both grace and truth in dealing with these situations. We suggest that you explain to your grandchildren the biblical understanding that you have come to regarding imagery.
Fortunately, the Lord does not apply His righteous judgment upon us in the same manner as realized by Uzza, when he innocently (by human standards)—and with "good intentions"—reached out to keep the Ark from falling, or Ananias and Sapphira, who were not quite so ignorant in their sin. No one goes to hell for reading a picture book or seeing a movie with images that supposedly represent Jesus, but as depictions that are not true to Him, they cannot lead one to the true and living Christ.