Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Don’t get stuck in your image of God, lest it too become an idol

Title: Pictures Don’t Lie

Text: Exodus 20:4-6

FCF: Don’t get stuck in your image of God



There’s an old saying, “Pictures don’t lie,” and when it comes to my sexy physique, sadly I suppose it’s true. But in this age of images, I wonder how often that is. It wouldn’t really be of much interest except for two things.

On the one hand, we live in a society saturated with images. Indeed, I’ve heard it said we are becoming a post-literate society – one that deals so thoroughly in images that it in some ways it is leaving behind the printed and spoken word. All you need to do to understand the truth of that is to compare the number of hours the average American spends watching television to, oh say, the number of books the average American reads in a year. Even the cultural phenomenon of book clubs shows that words have become a niche hobby rather than a regular pursuit.

That too might just be of passing curiosity except for this second fact. We serve a God who clearly doesn’t like ‘graven images.’ It’s his second commandment.

Now, I want to be clear on a few points. First of all, unlike, say, radical Muslims who riot at the sight of a cartoon depicting Muhammad or blow up statues in Afghanistan, we have no outright prohibition on images.

Furthermore, unlike the Jews, we aren’t even bound by this covenant. As I said last week, the Ten Commandments are a contract, made between God and the Jews of Moses’ day. We aren’t bound them to any more than we are obligated to the terms of Michael Jordan’s contract. But it is worth understanding the covenant Maker, because what this says about God is tremendous.

You see, images have one major flaw. They are static. They don’t change. They’re stuck. And while our God is the same from day to day, our understanding of Him must never be.

Think about your parents for a minute. Can you honestly say that you think about them the exact same way you did when you were five? Of course you don’t! If you did, you’re either only five and a half or incredibly naïve. Neither one of those is a good thing.

As you have grown, and gotten older, your image of your parents has grown. You have gotten more sophisticated. That’s good! So too must it be with our understanding of God. If it hasn’t changed from when we first met him, something must be terribly out of whack. God himself can remain the same from day to day, but he is so incredibly vast and glorious that it takes time to grow in our appreciation of him.

And that, you see, is why graven images are so bad. There are a lot of reasons why pictures are inadequate. I want to take a few minutes and show you what I mean.

The Limits of Pictures

Let me tell you something else images. No matter how wide the lens, the focus is always too narrow. Images are, by definition selective. How often, on the news, do you see pictures of a protest. But, let me ask you this – how many people are at this protest? 10? 100? 1000? 1,000,000? You never really know from the picture. The image will show you the intensity and the fervor, but can it ever show you the breadth?

Or, let me show you this picture of the Himalayas. When Susan & I were there, we used to take pictures like these every day. These mountains are beautiful. I understand why it is that the Psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes unto the hills.” But I’ll tell you something a missionary over there told me. He had some beautiful pictures, too. But one day he said to me, “You know the worst part about these pictures? You’ll bring them home and people will think ‘Wow, that’s beautiful!’ but you’ll know how pale they are in comparison to the real thing.” You know what? He was right.

I remember climbing to the top of the foothills that surround Kathmandu. When you’re in the valley, you can see these snow-covered peaks just slipping above the hills. They look like clouds in a haze. But as you make your way to the top, something happens. The higher you get, the bigger the mountains in back get. It’s as if they grow until the fill the sky. I cannot convey how massive a mountain really is until you have seen it for yourself.

If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, or Yosemite, or Grand Canyon, you know what I’m getting at. Your pictures are beautiful, but they don’t do the place justice. They’re somehow too small to convey how wonderful the real thing is.

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