Incarnation and Ikons

I have an ikon now. But what about “Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven image”?

First: I do not think that God is in the picture in my kitchen. I do not think he looks like a double-chinned Caucasian with doe-eyes. I do not believe I am kissing the face of Jesus when I caress this image, and I am not worshiping a picture for its own sake.

The remarkable thing about an ikon is this: prior to the Incarnation of Jesus (when he became man and took on our skin and bones and the sheer tiredness and little pleasures of being human), it was wrong to make an image of God. God was not flesh, God was spirit, and no one had ever seen his face. It would be wrong to make a picture of God, for there was nothing under heaven and on earth that could be designed in his likeness. The commandment in Exodus is to this point. You can’t have an image of God the Spirit.

However, I am not monocovenantal and I believe that God is with us and has been one of us. Jesus’s incarnation gave God a face and a body and a true empathy with humanity’s frailty. Jesus had a nose and eyes and ears. He probably had crooked teeth, bad breath after eating onions, feet that smelled and needed washing. He had hands that got torn up during carpentry work and broken through by the brute force of nails on the cross. He was just like us.

The literary trope of the Everyman is so appealing because we subconsciously know that God cannot have compassion on our troubles and joys unless he becomes just like us, and the Everyman is a hero who is just like us.

To make an image of Jesus is not blasphemy anymore, because an ikon/iconic image of Jesus depicts him as the Everyman, the suffering kinsman who also happens to be the one who can save us all from ourselves.  An image of God the Son can be made because he did become flesh that could have been pictured if only he had sat for a portrait. Since he didn’t, we can’t assume he looked exactly one way or another, but that’s part of the beauty of not knowing what he looked like. He is perpetually preserved in our historical imagination as the ultimate Everyman.

Ikons aren’t a violation of the OT commandment. Jesus was made just like you. And Jesus can inhabit my kitchen. He’s just not contained to a picture. And he’s not bound by your abstract idea of his historical person and actions. Go look in your mirror and see Jesus in your own humanity.

revised 11/29 for clarity.

2 thoughts on “Incarnation and Ikons

  1. Mattie – here are a few thoughts!

    Your basic argument, as I have read it at least, is that it is permissible for us to have ikons because Christ is not the “invisible God” but God seen. Thus, if God has made himself an ikon, it is alright (and even helpful) for us to do so as well. I’m not foolish enough to think that you are worshipping this ikon, think that this is what Christ actually looked like, or that He is in some way physically embodied in the picture on your wall.

    However, I do not think that your arguments have managed to overturn the original and fundamental ruling of the second commandment. Was this Old Testament law revoked in the New Testament? Obviously much of the Ceremonial Law was revoked or changed in the coming of Christ (i.e. circumcision, feast days, sacrifices) but the Moral Law of the 10 Commandments was never revoked by Christ or any of the New Testament writers. You didn’t cite Scripture in your argument on this point.

    The Second Commandment is about Man-Made images. The God-Ikon that is Christ is not man-made. In fact, he is not even made. Consider the Nicene Creed “begotten, not made.” The idea that God “made” an ikon of Himself is based on the historic belief of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (I’m sure you’ll remember the split of the Eastern Church from the Western over the person of the Holy Spirit and whether He proceeded equally from the Father and the Son – this view was condemned as heresy by the Western Church in the late 6th century after years of dispute) Those who hold to an Eastern Orthodox view (i.e. Dr. Harvey) hold to a view that historically sees the Godhead as unequal – Christ is not as fully God as the Father is, and the Spirit is less God than both the others. Looking at is this way it is easy to see why making an image of Christ would not seem to be the same thing as making an image of God, since they view the trinity in this hierarchical manner. It is interesting to me that Dr. Harvey never brought up this point in his Sacramental Literature class – why did we never discuss the original split of the Eastern Church from the West? Ought we to so quickly skim over the very words of the Nicene creed here? You see, it is not just the matter of image or no image that is at stake here – it is the very person and nature of God Himself.

    Finally, in all of Scripture it is not the image of the cross that is important – it is the Word of the cross. By focusing on the image of the cross we lose sight of what is more important. The people of God were always to be word based, not image based. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – I Cor 1:18. The word of the cross if the power of God, not the image.

    I am sure that many of these things have already crossed your mind regarding your ikon. But the thing that I want to make sure that you consider as you bring an ikon into your home is that this is not simply a question of whether paintings of Jesus are ok, but a question of whether Jesus is God – whether his Godness is equal to that of the Father and the Spirit, and, if so, how then you can reconcile His full Godness with the second commandment which, as I mentioned earlier, I cannot see as having been revoked as Christ was not made by man (or, even, made at all).

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