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.