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We live in a society saturated with images: from still photos and billboards to magazines and television, to movies and Internet, Christians are bombarded with demands upon their time, energy and attention. Quiet (or even passionate) discourse and reflective thinking is not the excitement of the day: if there are no raging, emotional debates, then C-SPAN 2 is ignored for the easier-to-digest shallow one-minute sound-bytes on CBS. The visual medium lends itself readily to the exciting and exhilarating-as far as our eyes are concerned.
Adult Americans spend almost 4.5 hours a day watching television-this does not even count Internet or videos! Children watch even more television, not to mention video games. We are a society inundated with the visual. It can be very alluring. These mediums (TV, movie, art, etc.) are not evil per se, but they can be entrapments (and every age has its weaknesses) to a generation reared on the visual medium of stunning images and one-hour "documentaries." It is not simply that society teaches us to follow temptation with our eyes; we ourselves know the allurement of images and the difficulty of reading words. It is hard to concentrate on a book. Images are more "real" to us than the abstract words on a page.
Indeed, these images are so real that people are more excited when they find themselves on TV than with the simple fact that they actually participated in the televised event. These images become an existential moment-a personal encounter that rises above (below?) rational discourse. It is so real and personal that words are lost. When watching a movie we tend to suspend reality to such an extent that we are moved to tears, rage or joy. That is the power of the image. So, we need reminders of the supremacy of the Word and to have a passion in our lives and in our families that rivals Mel's The Passion.
The positive side of the second commandment is further illustrated by the history of redemption. God spoke creation into existence; God spoke judgment and salvation to Adam and Eve; God spoke and Noah believed; God spoke and Abraham followed; God spoke His will to Moses, as the great prophet of the Old Testament, and spoke it to all subsequent prophets. Miracles did occur; visual surprises did arise; but these symbols were never suspended in the air, they were explained by the Word. But there is more. The spoken Word, however powerful, was still not enough: God inscripturated His spoken Word. The Old Testament was as a child under age (Gal. 4:1ff.), but we have been privileged to live even beyond that age when the Bible was still incomplete. As even children today first learn through pictures and concrete items and then grow into adulthood-words and abstract thoughts-so the Israelites of old were given many visual signs. But in the New Age these have been vastly reduced to two: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Since God is merciful and knows our frailties, He has given us these visible signs and seals for our infirmities and weakness. Yet, these sacraments are useless without the preached Word (Jn. 6:63). There must still be a passion for the Word.
The images of this world can be extremely alluring. I John 2:16 warns us against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Thus, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in our day and age. We must recall our Biblical roots. From the temptation of the fruit in Eden that was attractive to the eyes to the temptation of Christ with a vision of the world's kingdoms, we know from the Bible the dangers of the eye-gate. On the flip side, there is a positive presentation of what should be done to combat this weakness in our flesh: the Word of God stresses the written or spoken, not the visual. Consider:
1) "In the beginning was the Word...." 2) The Bible gives little to no physically pictorial information about its heroes and villains, let alone about Christ. 3) The Second Commandment emphasizes the dangers of images. 4) From God's stern reproach in the Garden to the audible chiding by Christ on the Damascus Road, God's revelation of salvation is predominately through words. 5) God chose the foolishness of preaching to raise the dead, Ezek. 37:1ff. 6) The Bible itself is written-it is not a picture book for children.
Why is this important? Because when we realize and practice the centrality of the Bible in our lives, we will be daily transformed more and more into the image of Christ while dying unto sin. Thus, it should be our passion.
How is this so? Why is sanctification so tied to the Word? And in what ways does the Word challenge our lives? That's the next installment.