Monday, July 29, 2013

The God Exegete [John 1.14-18] (30 September 2012)

Sermon Recording

In the course of biblical interpretation – called exegesis, there is no greater peril than etymological exegesis. Etymology is the study of the history of words and their origins. And very often we hear sermons based on the etymological interpretation of a word, the preacher making his or her point based on splitting the relevant word into its constituent parts. Let me cite two common examples. 

The Greek word behind the English word ‘church’ is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). It is formed from two Greek words, the preposition ἐκ (ek), meaning ‘out’ and the verb καλέω (kaleo), meaning ‘to call’. The conclusion often reached is that ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) means ‘the called out ones’. However, the way the word is used in the New Testament and in the Septuagint and in Greek literature contemporaneous to the New Testament indicates that ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) referred to an assembly or gathering. 

The second example is the word παράκλητος (parakletos) used in John’s Gospel in connection with the Holy Spirit. It is formed from two Greek words, the preposition παρά (para), meaning ‘near’ or ‘beside’ and the adjective κλητός (kletos), meaning ‘called’. This often leads to the conclusion that John means that the Holy Spirit is one who is called near us at our side, from which we get the titles ‘Comforter’, ‘Counsellor’ and ‘Helper’. 

However, the word παράκλητος (parakletos) referred to the advocate for the defence in a courtroom scenario and should not be broken down arbitrarily into its components, especially when we see that John’s Gospel makes more sense if we see it as a courtroom drama with Jesus’ being the primary accused and the other characters’ being witnesses either for the prosecution or the defence. 

And now for an English example. Suppose I were a surgeon. During surgeries an intern assists me and gives me the things I ask for – scalpel, sutures, etc. Since she is handing me some things, would I be right to call her ‘handsome’? If I did I could be faulted on two counts. First, just because ‘handsome’ is indeed formed from the two words ‘hand’ and ‘some’, it does not mean that I can simply coalesce their meanings to obtain the meaning of the combination. Second, while in Victorian times calling a woman handsome was a compliment, these days most women would be offended because the word has strong masculine overtones. 

With all of this as background, we can move on to today’s text. I have spoken before from texts in the Gospel of John. And I wish to remind you of a couple of points I have made repeatedly. 

First, unlike the first three Gospels, John’s Gospel does not attempt to arrange its material in chronological manner. We see this in the prologue itself, where John jumps back and forth between Jesus and John the Baptist. 

Second, John’s Gospel reads like it has been written by some absolutely besot with Jesus. This author has experienced a love so great that it shows in the way he writes. For John, it is the person and character of Jesus that is at the heart of the universe. Everything else is a by product. And we see this in today’s text as we will soon see. 

So, let me read the text for today. I urge you to close your bibles and if necessary your eyes as well. Just focus on what you hear. This is my translation of John 1.14-18. 

"And the Speech became tangible and lived in our midst. And we perceived his radiance – the radiance of the only one at the side of the Father, brimming with grace and truth. 
John testified concerning him and pronounced, 'This is the one. He comes subsequent to me but has been placed preferentially to me because he is superior to me.' 
Now from his abundance we all are recipients of grace succeeding grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth have their cause for being in Jesus Christ. No one has ever perceived God. The only one God, who exists in the embrace of the Father has interpreted him."

Except for a few phrases, this must have sounded quite strange. In translating the passage in this manner I have tried to keep two things in balance. First, the Prologue to John’s Gospel is poetic in nature and so I have tried not to be too stodgy with the English words. Second, I have paid close attention to what the various words meant in those days rather than blindly relying on etymology. 

The aspect of etymology comes into play with regard to the Greek word μονογενής (monogenes), used twice in these 5 verses, once in v. 14 and the second time in v. 18. The word is made of two parts – the adjective μόνος (monos), meaning ‘sole’ or ‘only’ and the verb γίνομαι (ginomai), meaning ‘to cause to be’ or ‘to become’. 

The King James version and the NASB render the word as ‘the only begotten’. The NIV has ‘the one and only Son’. The Common English Bible and the Good News Bible have ‘the only Son’. And we could go on. 

The word appears 9 times in the New Testament, 3 times in the Gospel of Luke (at 7.12, 8.42 and 9.38), 4 times in the Gospel of John, once in Hebrews and once in the first Letter of John. All the uses in Luke are not in reference to Jesus. All other uses are in reference to Jesus. Inevitably the uses concerning Jesus include the idea of generation or begetting in the translations. The ones in Luke, which remember do not refer to Jesus, do not have this idea in the translations. 

So is the word μονογενής (monogenes) mainly focused on the idea of generation and begetting or is it mainly focused on the idea of uniqueness? The uses in Luke clearly indicate that the idea of uniqueness is primary. Why then, when it comes to Jesus do all the translations focus on the idea of begetting, when there is no other word in the New Testament that might even suggest such an idea? 

I think we have become hamstrung by our creeds, especially the Nicene Creed in which we find the words ‘We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds.’ The idea of begetting, whatever that means when we are speaking of God, supposedly comes from the word μονογενής (monogenes). 

Unfortunately, since everywhere else μονογενής (monogenes) stresses not the begotten-ness of the person but the uniqueness of the person we need to conclude that the etymological understanding of the word is misleading. 

So what does our passage tell us? Twice in the course of 5 verses John tells us that Jesus has a unique, one of a kind relationship to God. What is John trying to tell us? 

Many Christians decry what they call pluralism. We deny that there are different objects to which people direct their worship. However, we should know better. We see it with our own eyes, hear it with our own ears. We have neighbours offering us food items from this and that place of worship. Religiosity is all pervasive in India, even if few could give you any rationale behind the various observances. 

The same was true of the Roman Empire. Places of worship flourished all over. Farmers would ask ‘god’ to bless their crops. Animal herders would ask ‘god’ to give their cattle or sheep healthy offspring. Emperors would ask ‘god’ to give them victory over their enemies. We could go on. The words ‘god’, ‘lord’, ‘master’, ‘saviour’ etc. would have been heard all over the place. 

Just this past week my mom sent me an email. It was a forward of a blog post. Here is a short snippet: 
Our spiritual life is not multiple-choice, it is not a smorgasbord of options, it is not a variety pack we can pick and choose from based upon what looks good to us. 
The author was well intentioned. However, simply stating something does not make it true. Why, when there are so many gods out there, is spirituality not a variety pack? 

John has the answer. Twice in these 5 verses he uses the combination ‘grace and truth’. Twice he refers to Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father. And he concludes with the claim that Jesus has actually interpreted God for us. 

What does that mean? We often use the phrase ‘Jesus is God’ in conversations or while witnessing to others or while trying to explain the doctrine of the trinity. 

When we do this it is implicit that the word ‘God’ describes something we have some knowledge about. We have a box labelled ‘God’ and we are placing Jesus in that box. Ah ‘Jesus’! This belongs in that ‘God’ box. 

And John has allowed us to do this right from verse 1 in the phrase ‘and the Word was God.’ The word ‘God’ is more familiar to us than the word ‘Word’. And so we would readily conclude that we know what ‘God’ means and try to categorize ‘Word’ accordingly. 

And that works well till the end of our passage. For there John tells us that none of us really have perceived God. We are ignorant about God. It is God who is unknown. But we have perceived and experienced Jesus. 

John knows that all the options available are interpretations of what is unknown – namely God. Unlike the blog, he does not simply dismiss the other options. He is actually inviting people to test the various interpretations. 

John tells us that with Jesus we will find that God is the embodiment of grace and truth, that from him we receive grace succeeding grace. What is unsaid is that all the other interpretations will fail in this regard. In some, instead of grace we will find rules, unforgiveness or intimidation. In others, instead of truth we will find obscurantism, deceit or a denial of reality. In still others, we will find limits to the grace we can receive or conditions under which we may expect to receive grace. 

And John is asking us, “Which of these, if taken to its logical conclusion would yield a world that will flourish, a world in which love and selflessness will prevail?” 

John has no doubts. “Test all you want,” he would say. “But at the end of the day, if you are honest, you will realize that the one definitive interpretation of the person and character of God is – Jesus.” 

In other words, John’s creed would not have been ‘Jesus is God’ though quite obviously he did believe that and would expect us also to believe the same. Rather, John’s creed would have been ‘this world can be one filled with love and justice and truth and faithfulness only if God is like Jesus, for Jesus is the only one who exists constantly in the embrace of the Father and who, therefore, is the only one qualified to give us a portrait of God that we can both understand and trust.’ 

Jesus, in other words, is the one trustworthy God exegete.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Seductive Prison [Genesis 11] (2 September 2012)

I remember in 1983 mom, dad, my sister and I had gone to the US for a holiday. It was a wonderful time. In a matter of days we saw many wonderful things, wonderful, that is, in my sight. From natural wonders like the Niagara Falls to human wonders like the Epcot Center near Walt Disney World in Florida. Yes, yes! To my 14 year old mind that loved science, Epcot Center made a more lasting impression than did Mickey and his buddies! 

And I remember being on the Empire State Building and looking down from heights that would be a sure test for acrophobia – the fear of heights. The Empire State Building was the tallest human structure when it was made in 1931. It no longer is. Anyone care to know which is the tallest standing humans structure today? 

So strange right? How many of us know the most powerful car today? Or the aircraft that can fly fastest? Or the longest artificial dam? But for some strange reason we know that the Burj Khalifa is the tallest human structure today. 

Humans have always been obsessed with heights. Scaling Mt. Everest was the ultimate goal for mountaineers, even though K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austin, the second highest mountain, is considered by most mountaineers to be the toughest mountain to climb. 

Yes, humans have always been obsessed with heights. And that is probably why we might think that today’s passage is about height. And that is probably why most of our bibles might say that this passage is about the Tower of Babel. 

True the passage mentions the tower. However, to conclude that the passage is about the tower is similar to concluding that the last book of the bible is about Patmos just because the island is mentioned in the first chapter of that book. 

So what is this chapter really about? In v. 4 the people say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” In v. 5 we read, “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.” In both places the tower is mentioned, preceded by the city. 

However, in v. 8 we read, “they stopped building the city.” There is no mention here of the tower because it is insignificant. The result of God’s action was that they stopped building the city. We can infer that they also stopped building the tower. But abandoning the city was the important outcome. Why? 

We read in v. 4, that the people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

The building of the city has an ulterior goal. They did not want to be scattered. But at the end of our passage in v. 9 we read, “From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” 

So what we have is this: The humans wanted not to be scattered and so they decided to build a city. However, in response God did something which made them abandon building the city as a result of which they were scattered. 

The crux of the passage is not the tower, but the city. They very fact that at the end of our passage, the city is named shows us that the tower was not important. If the tower were important, why is it forgotten in the second part of our passage? 

Also, the name of the city is important. We must be careful with reading the bible too literalistic a manner. As an example, and a pre-revelation for those who come for the bible study on Wednesdays, in Revelation 11 we learn that Jerusalem can be symbolically called Sodom or Egypt. 

Here in Genesis 11 we are being told not that the city was literally called Babel, or perhaps Babylon, but that its nature was that of Babel, confusion. 

At the textual level the confusion relates to the inability of the humans to understand each other. But the reason the city is called Babel is that the city itself reveals a deeper confusion. Or more to the point, the city produces a deep confusion. 

So let me ask you a question. This is not an open book test, so no peeking into scripture. Where in the bible do we first read of a city? 

Strange that so many knew about the Burj Khalifa, but so few know about the first mention of a city in scripture. 

In Genesis 4, after Cain has murdered Abel and after God pronounces a sentence on Cain we read: 

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 

God provided some means of protecting Cain from the consequences of murdering Abel and we who have learnt to trust God, even if feebly, can assume that the protective means were adequate. Yet, Cain went away from God’s presence, rejecting this protection. And his first recorded public act is that of building a city. 

Cain’s city, the city built away from God’s presence, soon gives rise to Lamech, under whom the escalation of violence is institutionalized. Read Genesis 4.17-24 to convince yourself. 

Now living in cities, humans became so depraved that God found no way to address this problem than with a flood. But hardly has the flood faded from memory than humans resume their city building. 

In his masterpiece, Meaning of the City, Jacques Ellul, has much to say, obviously about the city. I must give a spoiler alert here to those who attend the bible studies. Referring to our passage Ellul writes: 

Babylon, the great city, or Babylon the Great. The biggest in the world. No one can rival her, not even Rome. Not because of her historical greatness, but because of what she represents mythically. All the cities of the world are brought together in her, she is the synthesis of them all. She is the head and the standard for the other cities. When the wrath of God is loosed, she is struck first. When she is struck, all the other cities are struck in her. The blame laid on her shoulders is applicable to every city... Everything said about Babylon is in fact to be understood for the cities as a whole. 
As all the other cities, Babylon (representative of all the others) is at the hub of civilization. Business operates for the city, industry is developed for the city, ships ply the seas for the city, luxury and beauty blossoms forth in the city, power rises and becomes great in the city. There is everything for sale, the bodies and souls of men. She is the very home of civilization and when the great city vanishes, there is no more civilization, a world disappears. She is the one struck in war, and she is the first to be struck in the war between the Lord and the powers of the world. A city greater than a simple city — the finishing of a work that can in no wise be finished, which man starts over indefinitely with ever the same purpose and the same access. Babylon, Venice, Paris, New York — they are all the same city, only one Babel always reappearing, a city from the beginning mortally wounded: ‘and they left off building the city.’ 

It is important here to note that when Ellul uses the word city, he does not simply mean hugely populated regions. Any place that is primarily a consumer rather than a producer of the necessities of life – food, shelter, clothing – is called a city. Any place that promises safety is a city. In today’s world anything from a village to a town to a city to a nation is what Ellul would classify as having characteristics that are quintessentially those of the city. Keep this in mind as we proceed. 

God intended that humans should spread and fill the earth, sharing its bounty with each other and with the rest of creation. But beginning from Cain and encapsulated poignantly in today’s text, humans reject this. 

We do not believe that God’s protection is enough. We fear being scattered. We fear being so few in number at any place that other humans or animals could overwhelm us. Instead we want our walls, our gates, our gatekeepers, our guardians. The city is ultimately the attempt of humanity to protect itself from the harsh world. People travel to the city from rural areas in the hopes of having a better life. The city seduces us all into believing that we are safer here than elsewhere. 

However, we know better. The city is where danger lurks in day and night. Crime is rampant in the city. Plagues start in the city due to the high population density. War is waged by one city against another. The city promises safety but is the most unsafe of places. 

And so when humans decided to gather in one city at Babel, God decides to put an end to this deception and delusion. The introduction of different languages serve the purposes of scattering the people and of leaving the city unfinished. 

We know and God knows that this does not quench the human desire to build cities. For the building of cities is the means by which humans hope to become safe. 

And the city has its positive qualities. Culture, literature, art, music, and science flourish in the city. And these are good. These are valuable human endeavours. But the problem is that the city is confused. That is why the archetypal city is Babel, confusion. 

And what is its confusion? Where is it misled? Every human city ever built has been built apart from the presence of the true God. There may be temples and mosques and churches and other so-called holy places. But the true God, the living God, is not welcome in the city because the city is the human insistence of living without God. 

But the desire to build and the desire to be creative is good and God will encourage these desires. And ironically, he will finally bring humans to a city. And so in Revelation 21 we read: 

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. 

And so we realize the shocking truth about the city’s confusion: That without God at its center, a city is not a protection from what is outside but a prison for those on the inside.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Image in the Temple [Genesis 1] (8 July 2012)

Sermon Recording

Today, we are beginning a series of sermons on the first few chapters of Genesis and the first chapter of the Gospel according to John. We are calling the sermon series ‘Beginnings.’ As many of you probably know, the series on Romans was supposed to conclude two Sundays back and this series was supposed to start last Sunday. I am glad though that it is starting today because something happened this past week.

You may have read in the newspapers that scientists at the CERN Supercollider have discovered the Higgs Boson, one of the fundamental particles predicted almost half a century ago.

Why am I glad? Well, for three reasons. First, I have been following the research at CERN ever since the Supercollider went operational, hoping for the discovery of new particles, especially the Higgs Boson.

Second, I was hoping that in the wake of its discovery, the prominent scientists would disavow connection to the popular term ‘God particle’ that is used for the boson. Both these hopes have now been realized.

Third, I will be giving the same message today that I would have were the boson not discovered. Hence, speaking after its discovery, I can assure you that, profound though the discovery was, it has not affected my beliefs, nor indeed the manner in which I interpret today’s text.

So to today’s text. The text starts with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” When you hear the word “created” in this context, what comes to mind? Probably something like the big bang? God bringing something into existence out of nothing. 

What about when you hear the sentence “He created a piece of art”? Surely not a one-time explosive big bang, but a possibly long process. And we know that the artist would not have started with nothing, but with a canvas, brushes, easel, paints, etc. 

What about when you read 1 Samuel 2.29? “Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” 

What? What relevance does this have? The word translated as ‘fattening yourselves’ is the same that is translated as ‘created’ in Genesis 1.1. The Hebrew word is בָּרָא. 

If we do a word study of this word in the Old Testament we will find the following. First, when the verb takes a direct object, God is always the subject. Second, when the verb is reflexive as in 1 Samuel 2.29, the subject is a human. 

Third, most often, the focus of the verb is not on the material aspects. This is seen in Psalm 51.1, where David sings, “Create in me a clean heart.” He is not asking God to unclog his arteries or to wash the blood pump with soap! We know what he means, and it is not material in nature. 

If we go through all the uses of בָּרָא we will see that the common thread is not that of making something out of nothing, but filling something that already exists with meaning and purpose. 

Mind you, I am not saying that God did not create the material universe from scratch. What I am saying is that the focus of Genesis 1 is not on material creation from scratch, but on God’s giving creation meaning and purpose. It is a wonderful meaning and a powerful purpose, so stick with me. 

Apart from the study of the word בָּרָא, we have some intriguing clues, things that call out for recognition and understanding. 

First, in v. 2 we read, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” We see that, prior to the happenings of v. 3 itself, the earth existed, the darkness existed and the waters existed. So when we read about darkness in vv. 4-5 and about waters in vv. 6-7, the text is not speaking of their being physically brought into existence out of nothing. Rather, the focus is somewhere else. 

Second, why does God call the light, day? Does that not strike you as odd. Why did he not call the light, light? It is like saying, “I will call this group of pages, a book.” Not all groups of pages are books. But all books are groups of pages – even if it is in digital format on your iPad or Kindle. Similarly, not all light is day. But all day it is light. Similarly, it is dark at night, but not all darkness is night. 

Third, v. 4 is inexplicable. There we read that God separated the light from the darkness. But we know and the ancients knew that darkness and light are immiscible! Where one exists, the other is excluded. Darkness is precisely the absence of light. 

It is best to think of the light spoken of in v. 5 not as light in its essence, but as a duration or period of light. Does it not make sense that after reading about darkness covering the earth, that God designated a period of light, which he named “day”? And God designated a period of darkness, which he called “night.” This makes more sense than naming light itself “day”. 

Fourth, if we concentrate on the first three days, we will see that the idea that binds them together is that of separation. On day 1, God separates a period of light from a period of darkness. On day 2, God separates the waters below, that is, on the face of the earth, from the water above, that is, in the sky. 

Now we know that there is no such physical barrier that controls the rains. But that is what the ancients believed. They believed the earth is flat and that there was a canopy that contained the waters in the sky and that from time to time the canopy was drawn back to bring rain. 

On day 3 God separates the land from the seas, bringing dry ground into the picture, where there had been only waters. 

What have these three days accomplished? Day 1 set in motion the diurnal cycle of alternating day and night, without which nothing could exist. Day 2 set in motion the cycle of seasons, which for the ancients was mainly about control of rain, without which nothing could grow and flourish. Day 3 provided the space within which the two cycles could function to bring food into being, here vegetation which depends on both the diurnal and seasonal cycles. 

Isaiah 45.18 captures these three days succinctly when God says, “This is what the Lord says... he who fashioned and made the earth; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.” The earth has a function and that function is for it to be inhabited. And the first three days of Genesis 1 tell us how God set up the overarching mechanisms as a consequence of which the earth could become habitable. 

So now to the next three days. If the first three days set up the mechanisms or functions for habitation, the second three days describe the entities through which the functions are fulfilled. 

Day and night are brought to the earth by the operation of the sun and the moon. These are mentioned on the fourth day. On the fifth day, the places not inhabitable by humans, namely, water and air, are filled with those who can inhabit them because God wants this earth to be bursting with life. And on the sixth day, the land itself is populated with all sorts of creatures. 

We have now reached v. 25. And the text is still probably quite opaque to us. It is opaque to us because it was not written to us. It was certainly written for us, but not to us. It was written to the Israelites many millennia ago. And in order to make the text transparent, we must ask ourselves, “What would have crossed an ancient Israelite’s mind when he or she read this?” 

The bible is not written in a vacuum. And the Israelites did not live isolated from the people around them. They would have known the writings of their neighbors – the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Sumerians, etc. And the Israelites would have recognized Genesis 1 as being similar at points to yet markedly different from the temple texts of their neighbors. 

A temple text, as the name might suggest, described the building and installation of a temple. The common pattern was three stanzas that described the timings of the offerings, the festival calendar and the acceptable offerings. You will immediately see a parallel between this and the first three days of Genesis. 

After this, in a temple text, comes another three stanzas, which describe the who’s-who of the temple. This is a description of their priesthood. Who is responsible for the daily offerings, who is responsible for the various festivals in the year and who is responsible for the temple itself. 

The parallels here with days four to six of Genesis 1 are not evident. But if you see this text as a parody of the other temple texts it makes sense. There is no specific human priesthood in Genesis 1. This is because all of inanimate creation and animate creation are already accepted by the real true God. There is no need for a priest because God has already declared everything good. 

And if you are not yet convinced, let me ask you, “What do I hold in my hand?” A ring. Any specific ring? It is my wedding ring. When the goldsmith made it, he did not make it to be a wedding ring. He would not have known who would have bought it and for what purpose. When it was bought the purpose was known. However, knowing the purpose and fulfilling it are two quite different things. The ring fulfilled its purpose when it was put on my hand. 

In much the same way, a temple text describes the installation of a temple. But it is incomplete without the final element. This is because a temple cannot function without that final element. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what that element might be? 

A temple is incomplete without the installation of the idol of the deity. And now we can see the importance and relevance of vv. 26-27. This is not some random strange thought propping up suddenly. 

Genesis 1 is telling its readers that creation itself is the temple of the living God. As scripture says elsewhere, heaven is his throne and the earth his footstool. And elsewhere, the whole earth is full of the glory of God. 

But if creation is the temple of the living God, where is the idol? And Genesis 1 answers that God has created human beings to be that image, that idol. They are the representation of the true God to the rest of creation. 

We can learn many things from this wonderful chapter. Most I cannot even mention because I have not laid the groundwork for them. Indeed, to speak of each of these aspects, we would need many months of messages. But here are a few things we can conclude. 

First, all of creation is God’s temple. The bible warns us about desecrating God’s temple. And so we must be careful about how we treat this creation, all of creation, for there is no separate sacred space. 

Second, the prohibition against making idols must be viewed in light of this passage. If God himself has placed idols, images, icons of his design in this temple of his, who are we to attempt to replace them? To make an idol, at the very least, is to say that God did not know what he was doing when he decided to be represented by humans. To make an idol, at its worst, is to reject God’s designation of humans as his image bearers. It is to say, “I cannot bear his image. Let this lifeless lump of clay do it.” 

Third, every human has been called to bear God’s image to the rest of creation. This is not restricted to a group of priests or a set of rulers. Divine representation is the prerogative of every human, male and female, and any attempt to deny this to any human is an affront to God. 

The very first chapter of the bible insists on an order of equality, rather than a hierarchical one, an order of justice, rather than a lopsided one. It tells us about a marvellous purpose extending to the entire universe. And it tells us about a glorious purpose given to humans. How can we not be in awe of the God who did this?