March 8, 2004

Words and Pictures
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal 
myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 
But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is 
faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to 
face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of 
the LORD" (Bemidbar / Numbers 12:6-8).

Last week I made a statement that a couple of people 
took exception to. I had written,

"God chose to reveal himself through words, not 
pictures, not moving pictures. The inability of images 
to convey heavenly reality is expressed over and over 
again in the Scriptures."

(Note: You can read last week's message at:

http://www.truah.com/archive/index.php?message=20040301.htm)

I know what I intended to express, but the responses I 
received helped me to see how some people might 
understand it. I will attempt to clarify.

God reveals himself in many different ways. We read in 
the Scriptures how God has communicated through 
visions and dreams, human and angelic messengers. Once 
he gave a message through a mysterious hand writing on 
a wall, and on one occasion, he even spoke through the 
mouth of a donkey.

God also speaks through nature:

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies 
proclaim the work of his hands" (Tehillim / Psalms 
19:1 [Hebrew 19:2]).

There is much we can learn about God by studying the 
things he has made. His fingerprints, so to speak, are 
all over creation.

God communicates through religious articles and 
symbols. In ancient days, the center of worship for 
the people of Israel was a large tent-like structure, 
called the Mishkan, or in English, the Tabernacle. The 
Mishkan was the place the sacrifices were made. The 
furniture, decorations, and even the layout of the 
Mishkan and all it contained were designed to teach 
the people about God.

If God reveals himself through so many ways such as 
these, then why would I say, "God chose to reveal 
himself through words, not pictures, not moving 
pictures."?

What I intended to express was that God's preferred 
method of communicating who he is to people is through 
words. Certainly God appeared to Abraham, Moses and 
others. But they did not then spend their lives 
seeking to get people to picture what they saw. 
Instead they spoke and wrote about God's character and 
his instructions.

Human beings tend to want to grasp an image of God, 
whether it be a literal image or a mental one. We are 
very uncomfortable relating to a God who is 
intangible, untouchable, and vague.

God forbid the people of Israel to make and worship 
images of heavenly things. I believe one of the 
reasons for that is that our hands could never create 
anything that would fully contain the reality of God.

Even when God speaks to us though the means mentioned 
above, we must never confuse our glimpses of God's 
reality with God himself. Too often people enshrine 
their divine experiences. It is easier to revisit our 
past spiritual experiences (or other people's past 
experiences), than to daily open ourselves to the 
infinite vastness of an uncontainable, uncontrollable, 
unpredictable God.

The Bible is our God-given reference point through 
which we can truly know him. Not only can we 
powerfully encounter God in his reality through the 
words of Scripture, it also helps us to properly 
interpret our encounters with him as he speaks to us 
beyond its pages.