The Root of Idolatry
What do you think of the movie Son of God? Given that I haven’t seen it, one might think I hadn’t given it much thought. But I have. I could here take a stab at solving the immediate second commandment problem. Some argue that on its face, any movie that depicts Jesus is of necessity a violation of the second commandment which forbids making graven images. It’s a rather sticky wicket given the nuances of our understanding of the incarnation. God, for instance, is spirit. The body of Jesus, while most assuredly in union with God the Son, belongs properly to His human nature. But, an image of that human body is an image of He who is one person with two natures, one human the other divine.
I could take another tack and poke fun at how we evangelicals are less than discerning about how God works. I remember the promise of worldwide revival that we expected would follow in the wake of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I remember the giddy expectation of that preceded the release of several movies from my friends at Sherwood Baptist Church. But such is shooting fish in a barrel. In terms of soul winning strategies this is just the next great thing in a long line of failed next great things.
While each of the above approaches indirectly exposes our propensity toward idolatry, I think it might be more fruitful to explore a more fundamental issue with idolatry, and that is this—we are prone to it, ordinary, just like in the Bible, idolatry. Because we are modernists we think the worship of idols in the manner of those who bow down before graven images is somehow behind us. Because we are Christians we admit to a nice modern version of idolatry. “Well,” we say, “money or power, or influence are the kinds of idols we suffer from in our day.” And we do. As they did in the Bible.
The root of idolatry, however, is here—images move us at a basic level, and evoke worship in us, worship that God abhors. I first felt this watching another movie that presented an image of Christ—The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Aslan first appeared on the screen my heart swelled and like a teetotaler taking his first drink, a health nut tasting his first Twinky, I thought, “Oh, so this is what He warned us about.” I was taken up, enraptured, spellbound because of the sheer majestic beauty of the Lion.
Truth be told it happened again as I, in a theater, first watched the trailer for Son of God. I could again take up my native language of Reformed sarcasm and crack wise about how very Caucasian, how very soft, how very hipster he looked. But the truth is I broke into tears. I wanted that man to be Jesus, and I wanted him to look at me the way he looked at those whom he loved in the movie. I wept.
That experience is just what the makers of this film, and its promoters, want people to have. Strangely, many Christians think it a good thing. I had a profound, deep, emotional, religious experience, fueled by a man made, false presentation of Jesus. Much like the children of Israel had a profound, deep, emotional, religious experience, fueled by a man made, false presentation of God, in the form of a golden calf. The problem with the movie isn’t, in my judgment, that it is a technical violation on the edges of a law God made, that seeing it might make Him mad because He’s so persnickety. The problem is that, for me anyway, I was lead right into the vicious heart of idolatry, which was cleverly disguised as a positive Christian experience.
I am not, I hope you understand, accusing the makers of this film with being the self-conscious tools of the devil. I am not calling into question the faith of anyone involved in making or promoting the film. I am, however, questioning their wisdom. There’s a reason God warned us. The problem is in us, not the statue, whether it be stone or celluloid. Remember, the strangest fire is that which we think safe to take into our bosom.