including Islam is the ban on idols. The Jewish scriptures prohibit
the making of idols and the worship of any objects representing God.
Biblical Christianity has continued the same tradition. Islam standing
in the same religious traditions has the same emphasis. However, this
never banned art from these religions. Christian church has a great
tradition of promoting sculpture and painting. Islamic art is also rich.
Nevertheless, some Christian churches have gone quite far from its
original ethos of an iconoclastic religion to the veneration of the
cross and praying before the images of saints. Those who use idols or
images in worship argue that these help in focussing their thoughts on
God. The argument is that the worship is not offered to the idols but
to the deity represented by the idols.
Biblical Christianity, however, advocate a spirituality that does not
require crutches. Their object of worship is Jesus Christ. None of the
images of Jesus Christ whether sculpted or painted represent the real
Jesus who walked on the face of this earth 2000 years ago. No one made
a portrait of him while he was alive. We do have a description of
Jesus by an eyewitness historian Josephus, but he does not describe
the features of Jesus in details enough to make a sketch of him.
It was easier for those disciples of Jesus who have seen him to love
and rejoice in him. Love and joy are the two important expressions of
spirituality. However, Christianity continued to spread to nations and
to people who in space and time stand quite far from the historical
Jesus. It is true that there are Christians who would stand before a
crucifix or the icon of Infant Jesus to offer their prayers. At the
same time, there are millions of Christians who relate to Jesus
without any of these props. Icons entered Christianity much late, but
early Christians who lived in the days of Saint Peter, who haven't
seen Jesus nor a picture of him continued their worship of Jesus
without any of these. Peter's commendation of them is remarkable. He
describes Jesus as the one, "… whom not having known you love; in
whom, though now you don't see him, yet believing, you rejoice greatly
with joy unspeakable and full of glory— " (1 Pet 1:8). This is the
essence of Christian spirituality: love, faith and joy in the one whom
we worship, though the object of worship is invisible!
I feel icons though may be of some use to focus my thoughts, limits my
adoration of Jesus. It brings down Jesus to the level of a tangible
object; he is much more than that. Icons eclipse the real Jesus my
Lord from me by standing in between. Moreover, I do not need them as
long as I can relate to Jesus by faith and love him, and rejoice in
him. A props-free spirituality, which senses Jesus' present all around
us, able to immerse in his love made manifest in our lives daily is
what we should be heading for.