Dave Brisbin | 9.2.18
In the first and second of the Ten Commandments and many other places in the scriptures, God tells his people that he is their only God and that they are prohibited from making any carved images—what King James called graven images—of him or any of the gods of the near east pantheon because he is a jealous God who will visit iniquity on the people who defy him to the third and fourth generations. As we are looking at the contemplative practice of coming to know God intimately, how are we to deal with a passage like this? The image of a jealous God visiting iniquity on innocent generations seems the antithesis of a God who looks so different in Jesus’ eyes, life, and message. As we peer through the Hebrew context, words take on different meanings, but primarily, to understand the scope of graven images really points us in better directions. To carve an image is to literally set it in stone, presenting a false view of a transcendent God and killing the experience of a living relationship. But we do the same with our mental and verbal images, and we do the same with our written word-images as well. 

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As far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything down, kept all his teaching and interaction freely moving in real time. Were his words experienced only as oral tradition for the next two to three generations perhaps to avoid the veneration of a static manuscript in place of the living relationship it described? When our knowing of God is not based in graven images made out of any possible material—even thoughts and words—but in a living, daily experience of presence balanced with knowledge of scripture understood through Hebrew eyes, we find a jealous God who is no longer threatening, but consistently and exactly who Jesus portrayed him to be.

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