Is Art Idolatry?

Should I be thinking twice before I build that LEGO velociraptor?

Painter in studio. (© Bigstock)

Paul Vermeesch

Pop Culture

art creation godliness Messianic movement youth

I remember spending the better portions of my days making things as I was growing up. I made forts in the woods, cardboard helicopters, puppets out of dry pasta, and, of course, all sorts of LEGO spaceships and characters.

I’m in college now, but every now and again I can't help but build myself a LEGO dinosaur. Old habits die hard and making things is still a large part of how I understand myself. Because of that, the prohibition in the Torah against forming images has often nagged at the back of my mind. Exodus 20:4 says, “you shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” With this verse in mind, should I be thinking twice before I build that LEGO velociraptor?

The third commandment is designed to prevent idolatry, not to ban creativity. To understand it as a sort of divine embargo on art is to miss the spirit of the commandment. When approached with a heart of service, the process of making things can be a way for us to reveal the image of God. While Jewish law does place constraints on creating art that consists of a three-dimensional human form, the details of these laws are beyond the scope of this article.

Artists should be more like explorers than creators. When we build, draw, capture, or sculpt, we’re discovering and revealing a corner of God’s handiwork that has never been seen. It’s a marvelous collaboration and a glimpse into the fullness of God’s vast imagination. Understood this way, making things can be almost miraculous. We have the power to turn a dry canvas into a river of fire or fashion a host of dragons from a lump of clay. These little miracles are glimpses into the glory of the New Jerusalem. The Creator has given us windows into the kingdom of heaven if we take the time to discover them with our hands.

Genesis says that we are fashioned in God’s image. But how can we bear the image of an invisible God? We can choose to bear God’s image by continuing his work of Creation. We may be created in the image of an invisible God, but we’re also created in the image of a creator God. We’re made to make things. Our work becomes an offering both to God and to the people who experience it.

The young people of the Messianic movement have a unique opportunity and responsibility to shape the future of our community of belief. Part of that responsibility falls to young artists and creators. Ours is a chance to discover glimpses of the Messianic Era in creative ways and to express our understanding of Yeshua, the Torah, and the land and people of Israel. In fulfilling that responsibility with a servant’s heart, we are given the gift of bearing the image of God.

About the Author

Paul Vermeesch is a student at Wheaton College. His pursuits include media ecology, visual arts, literature, Hebrew, history, and all things Lego.

Pop Culture

art creation godliness Messianic movement youth

Painter in studio. (© Bigstock)

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