How the Use of Images Can Affect You
MAN is a religious creature. Throughout human history the majority of mankind has practiced some form of religion.
There are literally thousands of ways in which people serve their gods. Hundreds of millions of persons—including Buddhists, Hindus, so-called “primitive” peoples, and many in Christendom—use images as an aid to devotion.
Although religious images often bear the likeness of humans, at times they may be medals, figurines or merely lumps of wood or stone in which a god or the spirit of a god is thought to dwell. These latter are known as “fetishes.”
How does God view the use of images in worship? How could this practice affect you? Let us consider God’s own view of the matter as found in the Holy Bible.
God’s law forbade making images as objects of worship. The second of the Ten Commandments decreed: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Ex. 20:4, 5, The Jerusalem Bible) The inspired Christian Scriptures (usually called the “New Testament”) also command: “You must keep clear of idolatry.”—1 Cor. 10:14, Je.
IS “RELATIVE” WORSHIP IDOLATRY
Many insist that their use of images in worship is not idolatry. Some Catholics, for example, deny that they actually worship the images before which they bow, kneel or pray. They say that this is merely “relative” worship of the one whom the image represents.
Did you know that pagans made that same claim centuries ago? According to “church father” Lactantius (of the fourth century C.E.), pagans argued: “We do not fear the images themselves, but those beings after whose likeness they were formed, and to whose names they are dedicated.” Many Hindus and Buddhists today make a similar claim in justification of their veneration of images.
Does God approve of the use of images for relative worship of himself? If so, would he not have granted one of his prophets to see him and to write down his description in the Bible? Yet the Scriptures state: “No one has ever seen God.” (1 John 4:12, Je) When the Israelites set up an image for “relative” worship of Jehovah, God expressed his strong disapproval, saying that they had “apostasised.”—Ex. 32:7, Je.
The claim that images are nothing special in themselves but only aids for relative worship is highly questionable in almost all cases. How so? Well, is it not true that, of several images of the same individual, certain ones may be considered worthy of greater devotion and are thought to be more “efficacious” for a particular matter than others? This indicates that, in practice, people attribute real powers and worship to certain images.
Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas went so far as to say: “The same reverence should be shown to Christ’s image as to Christ Himself.” And since Catholics believe, though incorrectly,a that Jesus Christ is Almighty God, this means that an image of Christ should be given the same reverence as that due to God. There is thus no real difference between “relative” worship through images and idolatry.
What about worship of creatures other than God? Jesus, replying to Satan about worship, drew upon Deuteronomy 6:13 as follows: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matt. 4:10) He later said that true worshipers would worship “the Father,” no one else. (John 4:23, Je) Realizing this, an angel reprimanded the apostle John for doing an act of worship to him, saying: “Don’t do that: . . . It is God that you must worship.”—Rev. 22:9, Je.
What about praying to Jesus’ earthly mother Mary or to particular saints for them to “intercede” with God on one’s behalf? The Bible’s direct answer is: “There is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus.”—1 Tim. 2:5, Je.
EFFECT OF IMAGE WORSHIP ON ONE
Image worship, being contrary to the principles of God’s Word, cannot help people to win God’s approval and gain salvation. On the contrary, Jesus said that eternal life depends upon getting to “know” God, becoming acquainted with his matchless personality, his purposes and dealings with mankind. (John 17:3, Je) Images that can neither see, nor feel, nor speak do not help one to know God and to worship him correctly. (Ps. 115:4-8, Je) That most important education is available only through a study of God’s Word, the Bible.
Besides affording no benefit, image worship can prove harmful. How so? Most importantly, it can cause a breach in one’s relationship with Jehovah. Regarding the Israelites, who “angered him with abominable idols,” God foretold: “I will hide my face from them.” (Deut. 32:16, 20, The New American Bible) Rebuilding their relationship with God meant ‘spurning sinful idols.’—Isa. 31:6, 7, NAB.
The apostle Paul pointed to another harmful effect of image worship. He said that the relative worship offered to images actually goes “to demons and not to God.” (1 Cor. 10:20, NAB) At times, possessing religious pictures, images or fetishes can even invite harassment from the invisible realm. A woman in North America reports concerning her mother: “She had been ill almost all summer. When my husband and I visited her home she told me that on the previous night she had seen a soft light floating around her room. Then the bed covers were pulled off of her and it felt as if a child had crawled into bed next to her. She was a nervous wreck.” What caused these unusual circumstances?
Her daughter searched the house and found two religious pictures. Could these have something to do with her mother’s difficulties? Realizing that the Bible associates image worship with demonism, they decided to burn the pictures to see what would happen. The daughter continues: “How happy we were to see my mother out of bed the very next day, and feeling better than she had all summer!” Many have had similar experiences.
Image worship cannot aid anyone to meet God’s approval. God views “relative” worship through images as going, not to himself, but to the demons. This can lead only to strained relations with God and, on occasion, may invite direct demon attack. How appropriate, therefore, the Scriptural counsel: “My little children, be on your guard against idols”!—1 John 5:21, NAB.