being. Imagination can be used in religion, and great help can be derived from it. Yet we do not know God by imagination, ? imagination only helps us vividly to realize the presence of the God whom we already know. We may almost say that some men have not imagination enough to be religious. But imagination must not lose its wings. In its representations of God, it must not be confined to a picture, or a form, or a place. Humanity tends too much to rest in the material and the sensuous, and we must avoid all representations of God which would identify the Being who is worshiped with the helps used in order to realize his presence; <430424>John 4:24 ? ?they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.?
An Egyptian Hymn to the Nile, dating from the 19th dynasty (14th century BC), contains these words: ?His abode is not known; no shrine is found with painted figures; there is no building that can contain him? (Cheyne. Isaiah, 2:120). The repudiation of images among the ancient Persians (Herod. 1:131), as among the Japanese Shintos, indicates the remains of a primitive spiritual religion. The representation of Jehovah with body or form degrades him to the level of heathen gods. Pictures of the Almighty over the chancels of Romanist cathedrals confine the mind and degrade the conception of the worshiper. We may use imagination in prayer, picturing God as a benignant form holding out arms of mercy, but we should regard such pictures only as scaffolding for the building of our edifice of worship, while we recognize, with the Scripture, that the reality worshipped is immaterial and spiritual. Otherwise our idea of God is brought down to the low level of man?s material being. Even man?s spiritual nature may be misrepresented by physical images, as when medieval artists pictured death, by painting a doll like figure leaving the body at the mouth of the person dying.
The longing for a tangible, incarnate God meets its satisfaction in Jesus Christ. Yet even pictures of Christ soon lose their power. Luther said: ?If I have a picture of Christ in my heart, why not one upon canvas?? We answer: Because the picture in the heart is capable of change and improvement, as we ourselves change and improve; the picture upon canvas is fixed, and holds to old conceptions which we should outgrow. Thomas Carlyle: ?Men never think of painting the face of Christ, till they lose the impression of him upon their hearts.? Swedenborg, in modern times, represents the view that God exists in the shape of a man ? an anthropomorphism of which the making of idols is only a grosser and more barbarous form; see H. B. Smith, System of Theology, 9, 10. This is also the doctrine of Mormonism; see Spencer, Catechism of Latter Day Saints. The Mormons teach that God is a man, that he has numerous
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