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Should we picture the Lord? If so, how?

Par Rev. Dan Goodenough

{{en|Walking on Water}}

One Visible God

Why should we have a mental picture of the Lord? Why was it important for pre-Christian people to NOT make pictures of Jehovah? Then with the Lord’s birth, that seemed to change – so now why do we need a mental picture that we can relate to?

Pre-Christian people had various, and often simple, ideas of God as human, but many people then were also very prone to idolatry. They worshipped statues, golden calves, Dagon, and numerous other deities. Rachel, when she left Laban's household, took "the household gods" with her. (Genesis 31:30-35)

The Ten Commandments forbid "any carved image, or any likeness" of anything: "you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…." (Exodus 20:4-5)

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was told, "Thou art not able to see My face; for men shall not see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20). But YHWH did put Moses in a cleft of a rock, and sheltered him with His palm, and passed by Moses with His glory; Moses saw His back, but not His face. (Exodus 33:21-23)

At various times Moses argued with God as with a man, and in the Old Testament YHWH often spoke in human words, through an angel. But people did not see God in what could be called God’s own form. A few individuals saw the Angel of YHWH, who spoke for God. They thought of God as human, NOT as an impersonal force. In 1 Kings 22:13-23 the prophet Micaiah says he saw YHWH "sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left." YHWH asked this gathering how to persuade Ahab to "go up, that he may fall [be struck down] at Ramoth Gilead." After some discussion a spirit was apparently allowed to convey a lying message to Ahab. Clearly Micaiah and others regarded YHWH as some kind of human God.

But on the whole the pre-Christian Israelites thought little about a visible form of the one God. YHWH seemed distant, invisible, changeable and somewhat arbitrary. YHWH was Creator and law-giver, and demanded obedience, with good rewards for His followers and punishment to the proud and disobedient. If a visual image of God had been allowed, what kind of picture or image would it have been, or could it have been? Possibly like the brief description of the "Ancient of Days" with hair like pure wool, in a white garment sitting on a throne of fiery flame. (Daniel 7:9) It's hard to imagine an acceptable picture of God for pre-Christians, before He actually came to earth in His own human form.

This completely changed when He came to earth, born as Son of God, and gradually made His human mind (and body) Divine. He brought Divine love (from His soul) into all His human qualities – even loving His enemies. He went through a Divine rebirth of His human, and "glorified" it while living on this natural space-time plane where we live. He became YHWH in His flesh on earth, visible for all. His life was recorded in the four Gospels, with numerous teachings, healings, and miracles, and numerous examples of treating others with authentic love, while also treating evil for what it was. Seeing God Himself in Jesus Christ on earth, also gives a true picture and image of God that we can trust, and worship. No photos or portraits, which might lead back into idolatry. But from artists many, many pictures and images show what we know from the Gospels – a living picture of God in natural form, showing Jesus as Divine love in human shape.

We’re invited to picture Jesus as the face of God. Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" (John 14:9-10; and other passages in John; and see Arcana Coelestia 10579.)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews calls Jesus "the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power". (Hebrews 1:3)

Paul calls the Lord "the image of the invisible God…." (Colossians 1:15) "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9)

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

"Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…." (1 Timothy 3:16)

These and other statements make it clear that Jesus Christ shows us God; that we see God in Jesus Christ.

Never before had it happened, that YHWH God could be seen in a real live human being on earth, enabling us to picture and see and understand God truly, in a human form of authentic love. Some dangers of idolatry remain – e.g., some images and religious practices and processions among some Christians. But the Lord’s teachings themselves (in the Old and New Testaments, and very much in the Heavenly Doctrines) discourage excessive external worship centering on images. Artists have produced so many visual images of the Lord that we can have a sense of God’s loving humanity for all, without focusing on just one image.

But what about the pre-Christians – were they left spiritual orphans? Their churches were representative churches, and their way to heaven and regeneration differed somewhat from the one that Jesus Christ opened. They never enjoyed the spiritual light that became possible after the Lord came to earth; they knew not the Gospels’ living pictures of good will to every neighbor. But many certainly came to heaven and formed spiritual and heavenly kingdoms. The Most Ancient Church people were especially innocent and good, and close to God, though not as close as is possible now. And SINCE His coming, these pre-Christians do now have fuller and clearer conjunction with God, as foretold in Isaiah: "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that YHWH binds up the breach of his people." (Isaiah 30:26)

True Christian Religion 109 tells how Christianity brought profound and fundamental spiritual changes. Still, the pre-Christians had full opportunity to be led to heaven, through the religions that were available to them. The light, life, and uses in their heavens were more limited, but now have grown greatly since the Lord’s First and Second Comings. As human life worsened in the centuries before the Lord came by human birth, evil multiplied and almost destroyed the providential spiritual balance and free choice on earth (as evidenced in ancient history, e.g. Caesar’s life and wars). This spiritual decay spread because the ancient representative Word and churches did not provide enough truth or understanding of God. So the Lord came to earth to restore His power and control over hell, and bring His love and light down to earth, first in His (Jesus’) own natural mind – and since then to humans on earth, and also in shining light for all the heavens.

Finally, here is a very strong, inspiring goal for the New Christian Church:

"it will worship one visible God , in whom is the invisible God, as the soul is in the body…. Joining together with an invisible God is like the eye’s grasp of the universe, whose end is beyond its sight; or like vision in mid-ocean. But conjunction with a visible God is like beholding a man in the air or on the sea, spreading forth his hands and inviting all to his arms.” (True Christian Religion 787)

Le texte de la Bible

 

Exodus 34

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1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.

2 And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.

3 And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.

4 And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.

5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.

9 And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

10 And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

11 Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods , and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

18 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

19 All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

20 But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

23 Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the GOD of Israel.

24 For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

25 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

26 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

27 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

31 And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.

32 And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.

33 And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.

34 But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.

35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.