I is for Iconoclasm (an alphabet for penitents)

Iconoclasm is the wrong word if by it, we mean the destruction of religious images of any kind. In the Christian tradition, icons were windows to heaven meant to bring a soul into an encounter with the invisible God. But iconoclasm also means, “the action of attacking or assertively rejecting cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices.”¹  Part of our spiritual journey involves a tearing down of unexamined beliefs, practices, and institutions. If not iconoclasm, perhaps idoloclasm. 

We each carry assumptions about the world and ourselves. We come by them honestly, we are born with our racial identity and into a socio-economic class. We imbibe the values of the wider culture, we all drink from the same the well. But the journey into the land of repentance forces us to confront our most cherished beliefs about our self, our world, God.

Think about those most honored in our culture: the rich, the powerful, the successful, the talented, the skilled, the beautiful, the proficient, and those famous for being famous. Who does Jesus give special honor to? The poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the marginalized, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Here are Jesus words from the Beatitudes in Luke:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man. 

 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

(Luke 6:20-23).

The poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the hated. These are the folks most of us, most of the time try not to see. Oh, we care about the poor, in the abstract, but we are careful to not make eye contact with the homeless man on the freeway on ramp. We believe in feeding the hungry but most of us live, lives insulated from those in dire need. We want to comfort the mourners who are weeping, but it is too hard to sit in their pain. We instead distract them (and ourselves) with Netflix and retail therapy. We know bullying is wrong and want to stand with the hated and persecuted but we feel threatened by their religion, ethnic origin, and gender identity.  A culture that values the rich, the successful and the beautiful, has difficulty including the marginalized.

And yet following Jesus demands that we embody something else. Jesus confronts our cultural values. Listen to his warning for us:

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26).

Jesus warns the wealthy, the well fed, the perpetually entertained and the respectable. The people our culture honors most—the wealthy, the successful, the positive, the popular—are the folks that Jesus has his harshest words for. You have your comfort already. You will go hungry. You will mourn and weep. Your behavior is exactly how your ancestors treated false prophets. 

The axe is at the root of the tree. Our societal values are called into question. Jesus the iconoclast, comes to dismantle the personal and institutional value we place on the rich, powerful and the popular. He challenges us to enter into the pain of the invisible. Spirituality that does this is prophetic because it calls into question the idols of wealth, power, happiness, success and strength. The Beatitudes remind us that if the good news doesn’t include those on the margins, it is not good news but a mirror held up to our souls. Tear it down. 


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3 thoughts on “I is for Iconoclasm (an alphabet for penitents)”

    1. Thanks Rusty! You deal with idolatry in a much more fulsome way than I do here. Very thoughtful post. I enjoyed the Packer and Chrysostom framing as they would likely have come out on other sides of an iconoclasm debate and yet can speak with one voice against idolatry.

      My use of beatitudes is a far less direct, but I think pokes at the images we worship.

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