A Bodiless God

Posted on 20th April 2021 under The Rectory Bulletin | Westminster Confession of Faith

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.” (Deuteronomy 4:15–18)

One consequence of the spiritual nature of God is that his is invisible. One consequence of this invisibility is that whatever image you might wish to make of God is, by definition, an idol. When God gave the Law on Mount Sinai (also known as Horeb) the Israelites saw no form, so they should not presume to make any form of God. The Temple at Jerusalem was unique in antiquity in that it did not contain a large statue of the god in whose honour it was built. As around AD100, Tacitus sought to explain this oddness to his readers:

“The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperor (Histories, Book V)

As a nation we have a centuries long history of Christianity, and as a result we find the idea of statues of gods odd. As a result it is tempting to think that we are immune from this particular form of idolatry, but it is possible to construct idols in our heads. It is possible to think of God as a being like us, as having limitations, and dealing with us as an equal (even if he is a more powerful equal). Idols in the mind, however well intentioned, will do just as well as idols carved out of stone.

The Israelites were warned not to imagine God as having any form, as being like anything which he has created. What nonsense it is to imagine God as being simply a larger version of something he has created. That would be like imagining Mary Berry is in fact a large Victoria Sponge!

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19th April 2021

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21st April 2021

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