Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Good Shepherd

Ps 23:1-4

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.


Lk 15:1-7

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
3So he told them this parable: 4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.


Jn 10:1-18

1"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."


The image of the shepherd is one of the master metaphors of Scripture. One of the principal ways in which God depicts himself. And this technique raises several questions:

1. When we read or hear the 23rd Psalm, when we read or hear Jesus tell a story about himself, using this type of imagery, what should we be doing? It’s only natural to mentally picture what is being depicted. That’s part of the appeal of storytelling. And that’s why Scripture uses so many vivid, concrete metaphors. It’s often important to visualize the truth.

When we read or hear a Bible story like this, to what extent should we involve ourselves in the story? Should we immerse ourselves in the fictitious landscape? Should we fully participate in the various dimensions of the story? See the story in our mind’s eye?

Or should we consciously suppress our imagination? Avoid any mental images? Make of point of not thinking about what a shepherd looks like. Or the sheep. Or the rod and staff. Or the wolf. Or the streams. Or the green pastures. Should we blank that out?

Abstract away all of the colorful imagery, and only allow bare ideas to enter our mind?

2. Is there a principled difference between a mental image and an extramental image? Suppose an artist draws a picture of Jesus as a shepherd, leaving the behind flock to find a lost sheep. His pictorial representation of Jesus is modeled on Jesus’ self-representation.

3. Apropos (2), what makes this representational is not that it corresponds to Jesus’ appearance, but that it corresponds to Jesus’ metaphor.

In that respect, it doesn’t turn on the Incarnation, per se. Rather, it depicts a divine self-depiction.

Is that idolatry in the biblical sense of the term? Is that comparable to visual depictions of, say, the Egyptian pantheon?

No. An artistic depiction of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep is like Jesus because the metaphor is like Jesus. Jesus likens himself to that metaphor (among others). That makes it a true likeness of Jesus, in that figurative role. And that’s a way in which Jesus reveals himself to us. That's divine pedagogy.

By contrast, pagan idols are unlike God. They misrepresent the true God.

21 comments:

  1. Steve,

    Two points.

    1) How does this follow when God of the OT uses metaphors for Himself, but yet He still condemns any use of these metaphors as a representation of Him?

    2) The Scriptures also use metaphors of women ( Luke 15:8 ), and female animals( Matthew 23:7 ) in reference to God so do you believe it is ok image God as a female?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your first point is anachronistic. God gradually reveals ever more about himself in the course of redemptive/canonical history. You can't backdate all of that to Exodus.

    Regarding your second point, could we have a children's Bible with an illustration of a hen and her chicks? Why not? Is there something inherently idolatrous about the image of a hen and her chicks? Does a farm boy commit idolatry if he sees that while he's performing his chores? Or if that memory springs to mind when he reads Mt 23:7?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Is there a problem with a children's Bible that shows a drawing of a woman looking for a lost coin? It's just a depiction of a fictitious character in a parable. Yes, there's a sense in which it stands for God, but the narrative operates on its own level.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your first point is anachronistic. God gradually reveals ever more about himself in the course of redemptive/canonical history. You can't backdate all of that to Exodus.


    It is not anachronistic argument. I'm pointing out that just because God uses metaphors as divine self-depictions it doesn't mean we are free to create images out of the metaphors to represent Him.


    Regarding your second point, could we have a children's Bible with an illustration of a hen and her chicks? Why not? Is there something inherently idolatrous about the image of a hen and her chicks? Does a farm boy commit idolatry if he sees that while he's performing his chores? Or if that memory springs to mind when he reads Mt 23:7?

    Yes, if you are teaching the lil children the chicken is Jesus. Or maybe the God as a female movement is right after all based on your reasoning.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very excellent post.

    A picture I saw from a young child in Sunday School came to mind.

    They were teaching how God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. And one of the students drew a picture of a car, and a a figure of a man representing God was in the drivers seat, and Adam and Eve were in the back seat. It was a convertible.

    ReplyDelete

  6. Very excellent post.

    A picture I saw from a young child in Sunday School came to mind.

    They were teaching how God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. And one of the students drew a picture of a car, and a a figure of a man representing God was in the drivers seat, and Adam and Eve were in the back seat. It was a convertible.


    Donsands,

    What do you do with this Biblical commandment:

    Deuteronomy 4:15-18

    15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.

    ReplyDelete
  7. RONNIE SAID:

    "It is not anachronistic argument. I'm pointing out that just because God uses metaphors as divine self-depictions it doesn't mean we are free to create images out of the metaphors to represent Him."

    You're missing the point. What divinely authorized metaphors were even available to the Israelites at the time the law was initially given?

    "Yes, if you are teaching the lil children the chicken is Jesus."

    Is that what Jesus was teaching about himself?

    ReplyDelete

  8. You're missing the point. What divinely authorized metaphors were even available to the Israelites at the time the law was initially given?


    “The Lord is my shepherd”, “Return, faithless people, declares the LORD, for I am your husband”, “A father to the fatherless”, etc. Was it ok for the Isralites to image God as a shepherd, a husband, and a father?

    "Yes, if you are teaching the lil children the chicken is Jesus."

    Is that what Jesus was teaching about himself?

    No, but isn’t that what you would be teaching with the picture, that is the chicken in an image of Jesus?

    ReplyDelete
  9. First let me ask you about these images God told His people to make, if that's alright. And also these graven images made for His Temple.

    "And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be." ex. 25:18-20

    "In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.

    Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers.......It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east. The sea was set on them, and all their rear parts were inward....
    Each stand was four cubits long, four cubits wide, and three cubits high. This was the construction of the stands: they had panels, and the panels were set in the frames, and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. On the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work.
    ....And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time." 1 Kings

    ReplyDelete
  10. Donsands,

    They are not images of God. I'm not arguing for no images whatsoever, but only no images of any person of the Godhead.

    ReplyDelete
  11. God told His people to not make ANY images. Read the second commandment again.
    Then God told them to make images.

    So, there is a deeper meaning here. It's not so much the images, but why you are making them, don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  12. RONNIE SAID:

    “The Lord is my shepherd”, “Return, faithless people, declares the LORD, for I am your husband”, “A father to the fatherless”, etc. Was it ok for the Isralites to image God as a shepherd, a husband, and a father?"

    i) You keep missing the same point. You're quoting divinely authorized metaphors that are introduced into redemptive history at a later stage of canonical revelation than the Decalogue in Exodus (or Deuteronomy). You act as if it doesn't matter whether the Bible was written front to back or back to front. As if it makes no difference in which order God says and does things.

    That's a flat, static way of reading Scripture, which fails to honor God's use of time and space. But the order in which things are said and done is also significant.

    You can't simply take a statement from a later phase of revelation, then act as if a statement from an earlier phase of revelation was referring to *that*. What makes you think the 2nd commandment was even referring to things like the divine shepherd metaphor or the divine husband metaphor?

    ii) On a related note, the law, at the time the law is given, does not anticipate every conceivable contingency. Num 27 is a case in point. Because there was no legal precedent for this particular situation, the law had to be amended to address that issue.

    "Yes, if you are teaching the lil children the chicken is Jesus."

    Is that what Jesus was teaching about himself?

    No, but isn’t that what you would be teaching with the picture, that is the chicken in an image of Jesus?

    ReplyDelete
  13. RONNIE SAID:

    "No, but isn’t that what you would be teaching with the picture, that is the chicken in an image of Jesus?"

    By what logic to you infer that? The point of the picture is to illustrate what Jesus taught. How would a pictorial representation of what he said change the subject?

    ReplyDelete

  14. i) You keep missing the same point. You're quoting divinely authorized metaphors that are introduced into redemptive history at a later stage of canonical revelation than the Decalogue in Exodus (or Deuteronomy). You act as if it doesn't matter whether the Bible was written front to back or back to front. As if it makes no difference in which order God says and does things.

    That's a flat, static way of reading Scripture, which fails to honor God's use of time and space. But the order in which things are said and done is also significant.

    You can't simply take a statement from a later phase of revelation, then act as if a statement from an earlier phase of revelation was referring to *that*. What makes you think the 2nd commandment was even referring to things like the divine shepherd metaphor or the divine husband metaphor?

    ii) On a related note, the law, at the time the law is given, does not anticipate every conceivable contingency. Num 27 is a case in point. Because there was no legal precedent for this particular situation, the law had to be amended to address that issue.


    So are you saying that it was ok for the Israelites to make images of God and represent Him as creatures whenever God used a metaphor referring to Himself? In other words at the time Psalm 23 was written they could have pictured God as a shepherd?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm saying you have to ask what was the type of situation the law was intended to address, and not assume it was talking about something much later, and something quite different.

    The 2nd Commandment is set in opposition to pagan idolatry. And it's not as if the heathen were starting with a self-depiction of God (e.g. "The Lord is my shepherd"). A divinely authorized metaphor, like the divine shepherd metaphor, is not equivalent to snake-gods, dog-faced gods, or idols thereof.

    Then there's the religious function of idols, which is hardly equivalent to an illustration in a child's Bible (to take one example).

    ReplyDelete
  16. RONNIE SAID:

    "No, but isn’t that what you would be teaching with the picture, that is the chicken in an image of Jesus?"

    In the figurative illustration, the hen *represents* Jesus. A picture of the hen represents the hen, which, in turn, represents Jesus. A picture of a symbol retains the symbolic significance of the symbol it pictures.

    And a pictorial hen doesn't represent Jesus; rather, it represents the hen. It's not a picture of Jesus. It's a picture of a hen.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Your first point is anachronistic. God gradually reveals ever more about himself in the course of redemptive/canonical history. You can't backdate all of that to Exodus. "

    I'm not sure I follow this. He didn't gradually reveal ever more about how he looks. He gradually revealed ever more about his character, power, love, and so forth.

    And there isn't anything wrong with making a picture of a shepherd in itself, if it is understood that the shepherd is a metaphor - not a similitude of Jesus (or any other person of the Trinity).

    ReplyDelete
  18. i) God doesn't literally look like anything. He's essentially invisible. However, certain visual media can symbolize his nature, character, action, &c.

    Progressive revelation discloses various metaphors and picturesque descriptions which are analogous to God's deeds, attributes, and economic relation to the world.

    ii) "And there isn't anything wrong with making a picture of a shepherd in itself, if it is understood that the shepherd is a metaphor - not a similitude of Jesus (or any other person of the Trinity)."

    It's a picture of a metaphor. The picture is like the metaphor, and the metaphor is like the thing it signifies.

    But they are alike in different ways. The picture is a visual representation of the metaphor, whereas the metaphor is a figurative representation of God.

    ReplyDelete

  19. I'm saying you have to ask what was the type of situation the law was intended to address, and not assume it was talking about something much later, and something quite different.

    The 2nd Commandment is set in opposition to pagan idolatry. And it's not as if the heathen were starting with a self-depiction of God (e.g. "The Lord is my shepherd"). A divinely authorized metaphor, like the divine shepherd metaphor, is not equivalent to snake-gods, dog-faced gods, or idols thereof.

    Then there's the religious function of idols, which is hardly equivalent to an illustration in a child's Bible (to take one example).

    So could the Israelites at the writing of Psalm 23 create images and pictures of shepherds to represent God?

    ReplyDelete
  20. A compilation of most if not all our posts on the topic of graven images and the second commandment can be found here.

    ReplyDelete