By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Do not make for your selves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.” — Exodus 20:4-6
Feast of the Black Nazarene
January 9 is the Feast of the Black Nazarene. Year after year devotees from various places and from all walks of life flock to Quiapo Church to join in the celebration. They say this is their panata (vow) before God for the miraculous healing and other blessings they received. Since God answered their prayers and gave them what they wanted, they ought to fulfill their panata (vow) not only to thank God but in order to receive more blessings from God.
Usually, devotees have to bring towels to wipe the image, believing that by doing this some miraculous power will come upon them that would solve their problems and difficulties in life, bring success to their livelihood and businesses, and heal their diseases. Everyone in the huge crowd would like to be close to the image and touch the image. That’s why in many cases, there are victims of stampede. Devotees have to join the procession and walk barefoot from Luneta to Quiapo Church. They would regard all these as part of their sacrifices to obtain blessings from the image.
Power of symbols
People’s devotion to the image of the Black Nazarene is beyond question. Many of them come from distant places. They sacrifice a lot of things only to see and touch the image. This is where we could see the power of symbols. Symbols have the power to elicit people’s faith and devotion.
But the problem with symbols is that they tend to replace the one that they are supposed to symbolize. In many cases, people tend to attach miraculous power to the image rather than to the One that the image represents. Thus, people offer worship, sacrifices and devotions to the image rather than the One that the image symbolizes. This is where idolatry comes in – the worship of a false god.
Of course, some may say that the devotees are not really worshiping the image, but Christ our Lord. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that images are supposed to be used for educational purposes. The image of the Black Nazarene is supposed to be a teaching aid in order for people to grasp concretely the reality of the Christ.
However, the behaviors and testimonies of devotees themselves would show otherwise. The devotees attached miraculous powers and mysteries on the image itself, rather than to the one it symbolizes. The image already replaced the one it is supposed to represent. This is precisely the reason why the Israelites in the Old Testament were given instructions through Moses that they should not make any graven image, even if this image is God’s image. It is God who makes an image for himself. And he made the living human being to image him (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). But even then, it is God who is to be worshipped, not his image.
The Second Commandment says, “Do not make for your selves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws” (Ex. 20:4-6).
Obedience to God’s Laws
God’s instructions to the Israelites through Moses prohibit the making of graven images, and much more to worship them. Even if the image represents God, because there would come a time when people worship and offer devotions not to God, but rather to the graven image representing God. This is precisely what happened during the time of King Hezekiah. He conducted religious reforms and destroyed the bronze snake that was put up during Moses’ time representing Yahweh. During Moses’ time, anyone who would look up to the bronze snake would not die even if he would be bitten by poisonous snake. But during King Hezekiah’s time, people were already worshipping the bronze snake image, rather than Yahweh their God (cf. 2 Kings 18:4).
According to the instructions, the people should obey God’s laws, instead of offering devotions and sacrifices to the graven images. Of course, we cannot question the faith and testimonies of Black Nazarene devotees who believe to have received personal blessings and healing for their devotions to the image.
But the truth is that, genuine healing for our land comes not through devotions to the images but through faithful obedience to God’s laws – the law of love, of justice, and of compassion. For without God’s laws reigning in our land, our people would continue to live on false hopes. The best way to image God is not to make graven images of God, but rather to have reverence for God and obey his commands. # nordis.net