Friday, August 2, 2013

The Second Commandment and Writing God.

Head of lioness - Theodore Gericault

"Thou shalt not make any unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the earth above, or that is an earth beneath, or that is in the water underneath the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children of them that hate me.  
                                                                             Exodus 20: 4 -6

I have heard it said before, and I will most likely hear it said again that authors who include God in their writing, such as John Bunyan or C.S Lewis, have violated the second commandment by including God in their work of fiction. It's a serious charge since the Second Commandment, the commandment God issued to the Israelites to prohibit them from idolatry, is a commandment with a promise of vengeance. It is most certainly not a charge to be leveled lightly, but for the sake of argument, but it's a serious charge and should be taken seriously.

Now looking at the Second Commandment, there is nothing distinguish making an image of God and Idolatry. The two are one and the same. The Lord prohibited the Israelites from worshiping images because the image would draw attention to the creature rather than the Creator. So the question is, is an allegorical character in fiction that represents Christ an image of God?

Well look at the verse. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. The whole purpose is the second commandment is to keep the Jews, and later the Christians from worshiping any other Gods from the Holy Trinity. I believe this includes any substitutes, which include, pictures, statues, icons or any other such things, but that's another subject entirely. However does this include subjects such as God in writing?

Not exactly. In the case of Lewis and Bunyan, they do not write about God himself, but instead make an allegorical representation of him. But wait, isn't Aslan supposed to be to truly be God in the world of Narnia? Well sort of. Lewis never intended Aslan to be worshiped. In that sense the Lion is allegorical because an Allegory is meant of be meant to be to be God in of himself, but rather a word picture to describe something of His Character. They are used many times in scriptures, especially in parables to help describe something of God.

This is a helpful tool for Christian writers because otherwise we would have to avoid the subject of God entirely, and give that our faith is naturally expressive and dominant in all aspects of life that would make it hard to point to Him indeed.


  1. One brief point you made which I think deserves expansion: an interesting point in the whole area of representation is that the Bible often presents us with pictures/representations of Jesus, God and the Spirit. Some of the many examples: Jesus as shepherd, the sacrificial lamb, bread, wine, a vine, the burning bush and the Spirit as fire and wind in the book of Acts. These are 'images' of things in heaven above (God) but are obviously not wrong, Jesus himself uses them and contextually they are helpful as allegorical pictures. It would be wrong to start worshipping sheep simply because Jesus is portrayed as a lamb in Revelation for example, just as it would be wrong to worship Aslan or lions, they are both pictures pointing to the true object of worship. On this topic I'd be interested to know what your opinion is on more obvious representations of the Trinity, not in literature but in art. Do you think drawings of Jesus in children's books are a step over the mark or are they within the boundaries of this commandment? What about stained glass windows in churches, paintings of God the Father and statues/jewellery of crosses with a crucified Jesus on them?

    1. I think the line would be whether the image would be worshiped or not. The line is crossed when the object becomes something of worship or something used in worship. Statues and images of crucified Christ such as those in Catholic Churches would be wrong. Images in Church (stain glass windows depicting Christ) edge on this line because you are putting the images in a house of worship.

      As for pictures and drawings of Jesus in children's books, or in classical art, that's a difficult issue that I've been giving some thought to. When dealing with Christ as a subject in art, it is important I think to use the image to show that there is something 'beyond' the image. The Actor playing Christ in the movie 'Ben Hur' would be a good example, he never faces the camera, showing that the concept of Christ is something beyond what the visual medium could convey. Does that make sense?