Picture of God

Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo, 1508-1512
Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo, 1508-1512

I knew this subject would eventually come up in my blog. I just didn’t know when I’d have the nerve to address it. I recently watched the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy for the second time (I’ve read Irving Stone’s novel by the same name an equal number of times), so Michelangelo and his Sistine Chapel ceiling are fresh in my mind. A recent Sunday school class also reminded me that God is a spiritual God, meaning He is Spirit and does not have a bodily form like a man does. My church, in fact, believes man ought not to make pictures of God (and therefore Jesus, because He is fully God). The little kids’ books in the church library have been weeded through to remove books that contain pictures of the Deity (or someone covered up the pictures). I grew up in a Reformed church, but I did not grow up knowing about this brand of respectfulness to God. This is something I encountered after I fell in love with such works as Michelangelo’s Pieta and Raphael’s Madonnas. How do I reconcile this in my heart? I have not reconciled anything. I am only thinking these things through.

Michelangelo viewed God as he viewed almost every human being: manly, very human, muscular, alive. I cannot agree with that. God is spirit. However, the Bible itself uses figures of speech such as “the arm of God” or “the eyes of God” to help us understand things we cannot otherwise understand. Is Michelangelo divinely inspired as were the writers of the Bible? No, I don’t think so. Michelangelo was a man who had his own unique view on everything, and so he created things through that unique lens. Is it wrong of me to look at his painting of God? I don’t know. I’ve already looked at it. It’s in my mind. I can’t erase it. My husband would argue that I am not worshiping the God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, therefore it is fine to look at the painting. I want to submit to my husband’s ideas on this point. But something nags at me. What if God is really offended by that particular image of Himself? What if He is offended by all images of Himself? I don’t think it’s any accident that Jesus was born at a time when cameras were not invented. It’s no accident that Michelangelo never actually saw Jesus in his lifetime. Perhaps it is really true that God is not to be imaged in any shape or form.

So, I could look at the Sistine Chapel and remind myself that this is Michelangelo’s view of God and it is wrong. I can look at his Pieta and remind myself that it is his view of Christ and it is disrespectful. But in the Pieta, it’s only the earthly body portrayed; His soul had gone to heaven! You can see how this wars on in my mind. I have twice weeded through my own kids’ books and thrown out books that contained pictures of Jesus. And then I bought a Bible story book with beautiful, classically-painted illustrations because I did not want to buy a Bible story book that had comical images. I thought the pictures set an appropriate tone for the seriousness and beauty of the storyline. There are pictures of Jesus, and we look at them. We are studying Fra Angelico’s religious paintings for our artist study this term. They contain pictures of Jesus. At the moment I am not honoring my church’s desire to rid ourselves of images of God. But, at the moment, I don’t honestly think that I’m displeasing God. I’m not going to try to justify my reasons because my reasons are only human. I can only conclude that I need to pray about it because any human I ask is only human. His interpretation might be wrong.

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