Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Image and Incarnation (an orthodox rebel's continued defense of art)

A stir has been raised about this seemingly innocuous cartoon that is meant to contrast the difference between really "following" Jesus and our society's weak understanding of "following". 

What has caused an uproar is not the message of the cartoon but rather the cartoon itself. Christians who read the 2nd commandment as forbidding all representations of Jesus/God are calling foul over the cartoon's apparent graveness. The blokes at Pyromaniacs (being sensible fellows) have decided to weigh in, giving a very common sense response to the whole mess. Unfortunately, they only succeeded in bringing the firestorm to their doorstep. I offered my own two-cents in the ensuing meta-tussle. Whether it is engaged with or not is outside my control. I have decided, however, to copy it here since it sums up (in admittedly negative form) my own thoughts on the nature of art and communication in regards to God's revelation to humanity.

Anyone who says that all representational art depicting Jesus/God is blasphemy are in fact committing blasphemy by espousing logic that is fundamentally anti-revelatory and (consequently) anti-Incarnational.

The primary modes of God's revelation to man (both general and special) are fundamentally imageic:

(1) His word is imageic.

It is completely wrong to say that there is some sort of chasmic distinction between the "verbal" and the "visual" when it comes to Scripture (or any form of literature, for that matter).

Ask yourself something: When you read the very imageic description of Christ in Revelation, does not an image form in your very mind that matches (or attempts to match) those words? What about the imagery of OT prophecies? Or the Psalms? Or the OT historical narratives? Or the Gospel stories about Jesus? Does not your mind form images by the very reading of the words? Of course it does; that his how our minds work: they are image making machines, especially when it reads the imagery that is inherent in language. The Bible is full of imagery, imagery that produces images in our own minds.

Using your logic in regards to images, however, that would make the Bible itself an occasion to sin, since its very words serve to produce images in our very minds. (Remember: the 2nd commandment does not just say "graven images"; it also condemns any "likeness".) Is the word of God now a matter of idolatry, since its very nature as literature leads us to create images in our own minds? According to your logic, it is.

(2) Creation is imageic.

How does your logic about the 2nd commandment square with Romans 1:19-20, which basically says that all of creation is one giant representation of God, "even His eternal power and Godhead"? Is all of creation (from every bird in a tree to every sunset in the sky) now an idol and an occasion to sin? According to your logic, it is.

(3) The Word is imageic.

Jesus is imageic in two ways: First, as a teacher of parables. Parables are basically stories, which involves using imagery, which involves creating images in the minds of the listeners. Was Jesus an idolater, then, giving his listeners an occasion to sin, when he taught his lessons about the Kingdom of God? According to your logic, he was.

Second, in being the "Word made flesh," Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). The Incarnation itself demonstrates (amongst other things) that God Himself is not adverse to physical representation in that He became His own physical representation in Jesus. According to your logic, however, Jesus (in being an "image of the invisible God") is himself an idol and abomination to God.

That is why your logic is blasphemous: it denies revelation on all counts including Jesus himself.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

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