Dan Popp
Word God, picture devil
By Dan Popp
March 31, 2014

In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1a, NAS95)

There is a relationship between words and thinking. And a relationship between pictures and feeling. I'll grant that these relationships are not perfect, causal links, but they do exist. Logic, thought, and abstract concepts can be conveyed with words. Emotions can be swayed more easily with pictures.

How many times have you seen images of starving children on a screen, and had an emotional or "gut" reaction? If I merely describe the execution of soldiers, you may respond that that's deplorable, but such things occur in war. If you see the executions on video, you may have another, more primal, response.

To realize this is to see that the present generation is in particular danger. In a visually oriented world, the person appealing to reason is at a disadvantage. The picture is painting a thousand words while the words are cut to a line-and-a-half for Twitter. Emoting is easy and instantaneous; thinking is hard and time-consuming.

How does God communicate with us? The same way He created the universe: With words. "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21b) Amazingly, God treats us as fellow rational beings by communicating with us using language and logic. "'Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD...." (Isaiah 1:18a)

When the devil wants to persuade us, he takes us to a high mountain (where the satellite reception is awesome) and shows us a parade of goodies that we can enjoy, at a bargain price. He may have learned this in the Garden. All his jawboning with Eve didn't close the sale. It was only when she saw the merchandise that she bit.

God said "No images," but Satan fabricates countless fantastical forms to evoke a visceral reaction – attraction or revulsion, it doesn't matter, as long as he can bypass the mind.

I acknowledge again that this correlation isn't perfect. Jesus did give us some powerful, verbal images – mostly of hell. Of heaven He gave us only a few visuals, which Christians have always taken to be symbols of things so far out of our experience that we have no language for them. On the Mount of Transfiguration He revealed His true, glorious state to only three disciples, and only for a short while. Perhaps not incidentally, their unthinking reaction to that sight was to do something religious.

We might infer from this that the people most in need of visual aids are the ones closest to the edge of the lake of fire, and that the Lord reluctantly gave them some picture-books because they aren't able to read, spiritually speaking.

With all this in mind, consider a postmodern worship service in America. It's often a multimedia extravaganza, with constant visuals on the Big Screens. Churches that would never allow a statue of Christ in the building now routinely show videos of statues of Christ. After all, what else can we show during these long periods of singing about abstract things like salvation?

Imagine a worship service in the early church. Why, there wasn't anything at all to look at! Surely this helped to develop the metaphorical muscles of concentration. Mental discipline is one task of a "disciple," isn't it?

The followers who knew what Jesus looks like drew no pictures of Him. We should ponder that, and consider imitating their example.

It's easy to understand why God identifies himself with words, and not with pictures.
    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

    For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:24, 25)

    ...for we walk by faith, not by sight....
    (2 Corinthians 5:7)
If God values faith above all else, and if seeing really is not believing, it seems natural that the road to Him would be the avenue of telling and listening. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

I'm not saying that YouTube is intrinsically evil. Nor that feelings are bad. They're called emotions because they move us, and Lord knows we need to be moved about some things sometimes. But the head is to rule the heart. People unable to master their emotions are children or mental patients. And we, mesmerized by the endless Show before our eyes, are degenerating into a society of insane infants. We can weep, or laugh, or vomit, or donate on command – we just can't think.

© Dan Popp


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