On my first Easter morning as a Christian, I was overjoyed to find a beautiful picture of Jesus printed in the Sunday newspaper. This came from a photo of the famous Jesus statue in Brazil: Jesus stands tall with his nail-pierced hands outstretched in love. Yellow daffodils bloomed in the foreground, a blue background set the white image apart, and it was framed in a curved purple outline.
I jumped up, cut out this picture, and took it to my room, where it was tacked in the center of my bulletin board. This picture remained there during all of my high school and college years, and several more afterwards.
I would gaze at it often, thinking of Jesus, and sometimes even pray while looking at it. As I worshiped the Jesus I saw, I quickly forgot that this image was only an artist’s idea of his appearance.
His eyes glowed with love; his his face was framed with curling shoulder-length hair. His beard a short and trimmed. And he always wore a long white robe.
My obsession grew as I collected several Jesus pictures and displayed them on my bulletin board and desk top. I had Jesus pictures on Christmas cards and bookmarks, a card quoting Psalm 23 showing him as our shepherd, and a magazine article's illustration of his loving, concerned face. I loved my old children’s Bible for its many pictures of Jesus in the gospels.
I also had a children's glow-in-the-dark cross showing Jesus manning a boat tiller: He stood with a hand on a boy's shoulder. Underneath, it read, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot me”. I repeated these words as I gazed on this cross at night and felt secure.
Living by my feelings kept me from growing much spiritually. I read my Bible sometimes. But devouring Christian books, listening to Christian radio programs and music filled most of my free time.
I was content to eat whatever I found tasty, and did little to live the truth. Paul wrote to believers like me, saying, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ,” (1 Corinthians 3:1 KJV). I thought that all was well, and continued to worship the newspaper image.
I often enjoyed a favorite children's Bible illustration that showed Jesus holding a little boy in his lap. The boy's brown eyes and wide smile reflected solid trust as he gazed into Jesus' face. And Jesus' answering smile showed his delight.
This picture was a refuge sometimes. In my imagination, I was the child.
Another picture I often enjoyed was a painting I had made in an art class. This was the familiar curly-haired One wearing a burgundy sash diagonally over his robe, but now as a shepherd. Jesus carried a weary lamb on his shoulders, grasping it by its legs, as the flock crowded behind him, and followed.
I loved those pictures. But, God helped me grow spiritually under good Bible teaching at my church until I was ready for the truth.
One Sunday I described my collection to an elder and asked him if they were idols. He told me that these pictures could be idols. Hearing this upset me. He gently added that I don’t need pictures of Jesus because the Bible gives us all the pictures we need.
My elder's words spurred me to do research. And God provided a helpful article which revealed the truth that I couldn't ignore.
God says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them,” (Exodus 20:3-5 KJV).
The author said that an idol is anything that you allow to come between you and God that competes for first place in your life. I was dismayed to find that idols can include images in all kinds of media.
Struggling with guilt, I spread all my pictures around me at home. I gazed on them and wept just thinking about throwing them away. The newspaper image had to go.
I ripped it up and threw it away. But then I upended the trash can, scrambled for those pieces and taped it back together. It was like ripping out part of me; I couldn't do it. Putting every Jesus picture out of sight, I felt an immense relief.
I told myself that the problem was gone.
But, I was lying to myself; I still loved those pictures. While I absorbed good Bible teaching at church, and prayed, God worked in my heart to produce true repentance.
True repentance meant changing my life. I realized that I'd been grasping my images for comfort when the real Jesus was waiting for me to come to him. My pictures really were idols. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I asked God's forgiveness.
Then I was able to kneel on the floor, fold the newspaper picture, and stuff it in my trash can. My desire for it was gone. All the other images I had worshiped were thrown in too. Then my sadness was replaced with peace.
What my church elder said is true. The Bible does give me all the pictures of God I need. And they are the best of all.