By Patrick L. Carbonell
This is just one of the most common question that shakes the very foundation of any uninformed Catholic about their faith. “Bible” Christians typically use Exodus 20:4-5 as their core evidence to prove that images are totally prohibited by God.
Exodus 20:4-5 says “Do not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God…”
How can any concerned Catholic ever refute that scriptural basis? We Catholics couldn’t refute Exodus 20:4-5 because the verse actually supports the Catholic Faith entirely, but not in the way “Bible” Christians understand it. We just need to clarify what the verses really mean in the light of events being experienced back then and with the support of other verses in the Bible.
But first, take note that God made us a physical body to allow us to understand things better with our senses. 2nd, since we percieve things better with our physical limitations, we produce aesthetic things to strengthen and deepen more our spiritual faith towards the Lord. Some of those we use are images that represent God (not false gods) and our co-prayer warriors who are already in heaven such as the angels and the saints. Even physical gestures of respect and reverence like putting hands together in prayer, or kneeling down and signing one’s self with the symbol that Christ stretched His arms to redeem us. Another physical aspect that aids us in our faith is music, which even Non-Catholics never deny as a physical medium to deepen their spiriitual worship.
But still, does God really forbid the making and the use of visual things for worship? What biblical evidences can we find that supports the use of those?
It is never good to put a different meaning into what God actually intended to say. God didn’t forbid the making of images as long as it is used for His glory. Scripture can show a lot of evidences for this.
In Exodus 25:18-19 God allowed the making of images in heaven in the representation of two cherubims on the ark of the covenant. Cherubims as we all know are angels closest to God more than any other angel. The entire Ark of the Covenant in itself is a representation of the actual presence of God to his people and only the priests who were descendants of Aaron were authorized to carry it. In Numbers 21:8-9, God instructed Moses to make an image that represents a creature on the earth beneath in the form of a bronze serpent which became a healing medium of those beaten by a serpent.
One of the most amazing involvment of carved images of anything on the earth is found in 1Kings 6:23-29 where the temple built under the rule of King Solomon was engraved with trees,cherubim,and flowers. The Bible continues to describe the artistic worship found in the temple with images of oxen, lions, and pomegranates as described in 1Kings: 25-45. What’s amazing about the event back then was that God Himself appreciated all the images and icons that where made.
So what did God really mean about Exodus 20:4-5? God was warning His people never to make anything that will be used to worship false and man-made gods. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, many of them were tempted to worship the gods of the lands surrounding them, or even to invent their own god as they wish. Therefore, the warning of God in Exodus 20:4-5 did not generally prevent us from making images as long as it is not worshipped as a god but is used to worship God himself.
Religious images in the Catholic Church are used to represent God and any person who have done extra ordinary good things for the Faith. Even our country has a flag to represent our being a nation and statues of people whom we consider as heroes because they died for the freedom of our country. If it”s okay to make monuments for our national heroes, how much more will it be for God who died for us and the heroes of our Faith. One simple sense we can relate this is a picture of someone very dear to us. We may kiss the picture or even talk to it, but its not the paper that we express such emotion, it’s the person that the picture represents. This is the same with images. Gestures are done not because we worship or venerate the lifeless images, but who it represents.