A Picture of God

The second of the ten commandments says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Ex 20:4) John said, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (Jn 1:18) God’s denying us of the knowledge of His looks must be significant, because we thrive on images of people.

Especially with the arrival of digital cameras are people eager to capture the moment at special occasions, at sports events, and even in criminal acts. But of God we have not even a still shot.

One reason God is more elusive than Big Foot is that any image of God would become the object of worship when the person of God should be the thing worshiped – remember Jeroboam’s golden calves. He fashioned them out of gold and proclaimed, “...Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Ki 12:28) Israel never recovered from this wrong thinking about God. (2 Ki 17:21-23)

God has shown us that relationships run deeper than appearances. Yes, we want our loved ones to strike us as beautiful, but the real impression they leave is with the greatness of their character.

A foreigner would recognize from a portrait of George Washington that he was a man from antiquity, but not much more. We Americans know that he is the father of our country, the man who lived by one hundred rules of civility, the man who could have been king but refused to do so for the sake of democratic equality. This simple observation is enough to show the fallacy of a generation which values the physical appearance of a person more than the fabric of the soul. As with King David, God looks on the heart rather than being moved by a pretty face or a person’s anatomy. (1 Sam 16:7)

Those who say that a picture is worth a thousand words might fear that we could never know God, but they have overlooked the fact that the Bible is composed of 807,361 words, which translates into over 800 pictures of God. And we have not even mentioned that we can see God by what He has done in the creation, as the 19th Psalm says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”

We do not even know what Christ looked like when He became flesh and dwelt among us. Isaiah had already prophesied of His ordinariness: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2) His appearance was not impressive. Sculptors hewed busts of some of the Caesars which remain, but there is not even a rough portrait of Christ. What we do have are His words, His actions, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection, those things which appeal to the spiritual rather than to the fleshly.

The proper way to relate to God, and others, is first to observe the substance of motive. We have no picture of Simon the Sorcerer, but we do know that his motives were askew. When he tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with money he was told, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” (Acts 8:21-22) We have no picture of David, but we know that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14)

As the father of a young lady might ask her date about his intentions, so should we question the motives of our own hearts and others. (Prov 4:23) By so doing we can see the real self and be impressed by the character of others.

Second, a person’s actions tell us a lot. We are talking accountability here. A person’s looks or even a person’s words might betray the truth of who a person is. Jesus said, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk 6:46) Every person is writing his own biography. Each one is making history. If a person’s works will be the basis of eternal judgment (Rev 20:12), those works should also be the basis for our relating to one another in this world. Further, they should be the basis of our judging ourselves, whether we be in the faith. (1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5)

Third, we relate to God and to others by the substance of their words. No matter how appealing a person’s looks might be, if the person speaks gibberish, or spews profanity, or tells one lie after the other, we will distance ourselves immediately.

If a person wonders how we are expected to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength, and all our souls (Mk 12:30), this point is instructive. We can look into what God has said, and we can offer our words to Him in prayer for a starting point for loving God as we should.

How can a marriage be a marriage without words – proper words? How can parents do their job without words? How can a person become a Christian without the words of the gospel? Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Mt 12:37)

Fourth, where a person has communions more revealing than the best Nokia snapshot. “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” (1 Cor 10:21) From where do you get your advice? Do you warm by the enemy’s fire?

It has become popular with magazines and web home pages to put together lists for self-improvement: “Ten ways to save money,” “Twelve ways to become a better person,” “Seven ways to improve your marriage,” etc. Rarely will any of the advice lists have a basis in scripture. A Christian might easily be more exposed to these worldly (and usually anonymous) advisers than to the ten commandments, the beatitudes, or the Christian virtues. With what cause do you have communion? When a person is not careful about communion with the saints, making friends of God’s children, and abstaining from the ungodly sights and sounds of a sinful generation, he has some self-reflecting to do. “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25)

When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched one of the first findings publicized was proclaimed by many astronomers as “the fingerprint of God.” The power of God is seen also in microscopic studies, in things such as the DNA molecule. We may have overlooked these things if we were concentrating on God’s pose in a photograph. Instead, we are compelled to look at His power, His mercy, and the personal nature of God in that He has spoken to us through His Son. (Heb 1:1-2) Coming to God is not to find His picture in a school yearbook, but to test His and our motives, to examine His actions, to scrutinize His words, and to find communion through obeying the gospel.

By George Hutto

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