Serving in a kingdom without icon

You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them…

Exodus 20:4-5

But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:23-24

Have nothing to do with tangible representations of any god, including the one true God. Worship the Father (Yahweh) alone, and in spirit and in truth only.

Humans love icons. We seek to identify everything with a symbolic representation of some sort, whether it is a brand logo, an app, or a digital navigation menu. In honesty, I must admit there is a logic to this mode of communication: it acts as a type of shorthand for a larger idea or concept that can be communicated quickly and simply.

Throughout history, civilizations have represented their concepts of their gods with a plethora of iconic representation, from statues to intricate carvings of various symbols to grandiose temples. To this day, iconic representation can be found throughout the world, some even becoming popular tourist destinations due to their magnificence.

However, God warns us that although this is typical and commonplace among our cultures, we are not to identify him in this sort of way. He is to be worshiped in spirit and truth only, not by some sort of symbolic representation. The wisdom in this instruction is that he knows that the thing that is created to represent him can then replace him in the minds of the worshipers.

Consider the golden calf incident. The Israelites created the golden calf as a representation of the gods who had brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 32:4), and bowed down to it and danced around it. This shamed the magnificence of the one true God and Moses rightly and immediately destroyed it.

Consider the bronze snake that Moses had made in obedience to Yahweh’s command for healing of the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21:6-9). When Hezekiah became king, he ended up having to destroy it because it had become an object of worship in and of itself (2 Kings 18:4).

Consider the ephod that Gideon made to represent the victories of the Israelites over the Midianites (Judges 8:22-27). While his intent was to honor God, it became an object of worship itself and created corruption among the Israelites.

Idolatry is the most represented affront to God and his majesty throughout the entire Bible.

Idols of other gods are an offense to him, because there are no other gods that have created all things, and ascribing power to something other than him is an insult to his sovereignty over his Creation.

Idols meant to represent him or aspects of his power are also offensive to him, because no one thing can represent his majesty and glory in all of Creation. Ultimately, as we have seen, he knows that the representative thing becomes the object of worship. Any created thing is not a thing to be worshiped, even if we believe it is representing the one true God. No one thing in all of Creation can represent him, and is therefore offensive to him.

What if I was to create an icon of my wife, and in order to honor her, I burnt incense to that statue every day, or got down on my knees and professed my love for her to the image? I don’t need an iconic representation of my wife to honor her; I just need to demonstrate my love to her every day in how I live my life by respecting her and caring for her.

In the same way, God doesn’t want to be worshiped through some shallow representation of a portion of his being; he wants to be recognized for the beneficent Creator that he is in all of his qualities and honored from the heart. God expects the same simplicity and sincerity that I would show my wife in my worship of him.

God sets himself apart from all other gods by demanding we stop trying to represent him or his kingdom symbolically. It can’t be done, and if it is attempted, whatever we make becomes an object of corruption.

There are thousands of faith traditions in regards to the God of the Bible. Whatever your personal faith tradition, you must remove all idolatry, iconography, statues, and symbolic representation in your practice. God hates all of it. He just desires our sincere honoring of him everyday by the outworking of our practical faith among the rest of his Creation. This is what living in and for his kingdom should be.

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