Why Jesus Doesn't Belong in Christmas Décor
What God has declared is sufficient, but I am also convinced of good reasons for the prohibition of image-making and worship by images.
If we are going to create or choose images of Jesus, we have a few options. We can try to make an accurate representation of his physical body. The Bible tells us that Zaccheaus was short, Goliath was "six cubits and a span" tall, and poor Leah was unattractive with "weak eyes", but about Jesus's appearance we have no details at all. Though the Bible repeatedly affirms Jesus' humanity—he ate, drank, bled, perspired, and experienced human emotions—any attempt at literal representation of his physical features is based on insufficient evidence.
Alternatively, we can create an image based on our personal preference—choosing a Jesus that appeals to us. Or, we can celebrate the diverse preferences of a variety of artists by, say, collecting and displaying multiple nativity sets. Choosing images based on preferences has the problem that, rather than affirming Christ's specific incarnation body, it hints that Jesus' appearance is merely many different things to many people.
But Jesus did look a certain way. In an essay on the subject, theologian John Murray writes, "Our Lord had a true body. He could have been photographed. A portrait could have been made of him and, if a good portrait, it would have reproduced his likeness." Even as a baby, Jesus was not a generic human being. He had a particular shape to his ears. He was a certain weight and height. His fingerprints were unique.
Another option for images of Jesus is not to attempt literality, but instead to symbolize or represent some particular aspect of his being: a loving Jesus or a powerful Jesus or a holy Jesus. But God is, as The Westminster Confession says, "without parts." He is all of his attributes all the time. Unlike humans who grow and change from moment to moment, God is necessarily and always fully himself. He is everything or he is nothing. And a picture that symbolizes one or two or twenty of his attributes is no true picture at all.
J.I. Packer explains the difficulty with images in Knowing God (the book's 40 years of influence were recently profiled by CT):
The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent.
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