It felt exposing to see the Nike goddess statue in her plaza home on news coverage of the Royal Jubilee because Nike, or Victoria, is the cover photo on my just-published book. The exposure was both imposter-ish and relevant; my story has nothing to do with empires, but discusses victories and tributes. I think of how Nike is prominently stationed at a seat of royalty ordained in connection to Christian God, the statue therefore not so much an homage to a Greek or Roman god as it is a trophy of a treasured virtue. They use it like I use it; not for the purpose of worship, but as an artistic expression of ideals.
Nike idolatry was on my mind as I tucked my child into bed. Cuddled into a nest of soft toy pets, I placed his teddy bear at his shoulder. He squeezed his baby Yoda stuffy in his tender arms. Troubled by the worship question, I said Jesus over his dewy curls and snuggled him into a bedful of … snuggly plush idols, it occurred to me, in juxtaposition.
The ban from making images in the first place is the part of Old Testament rigidity, once taken to extremes, that modern Christians generally do not adhere to. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to or serve them (Exodus 20:4).” Nowadays our world seems like nothing BUT images clamoring for tribute, just check your social media. “Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them (Jeremiah 10:14).” Then again, I think of Paul, the Christian apostle, identifying the statue to honor an unknown god (Acts 17:22-31); though Paul uses the prop to teach about God, the statue itself remains impotent. “[God] said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live (Exodus 33:20).” The ancient ban against art of living things helps me today by revealing my penchant to rely and dote upon the things I can see.
Therefore, not devoted in the least to the Greek pantheon (that, in their hedonism and rivalry, present as created in the images of man, rather than the other way around); I thus make a cursory summary (a summary unworthy of Wikipedia) of how Nike’s themes symbolize the struggles at play in my story; That statues meant for beauty and honor are empty of power on their own accord; that created things express the awe for something greater than the object itself. Her legend speaks to the foolishness of protecting that which neither needs nor warrants protection, or of proclaiming fealty to that which earns no loyalty.
Although I confess that I suffer from the disease of sometimes elevating myself too much, I reject any intention of it. Empty statues reflect the necessity of recognizing that I add no glory to God, yet His work in me glorifies Himself and powerfully uplifts others. It’s incredibly difficult, maintaining a life of sober self-judgement that is neither too lofty nor dismissing. Let me be the first to admit I’m valuable and yet nothing but feeble, alone. A trophy bought, not earned, is meaningless, after all. Likewise, my child knows that his toys are deaf things that can give no love. Plushies are inert comforts enjoyed in the context of a mother’s love.
I guess images are here to stay. Rather than a religion strictly against images, we are left as custodians of enduring questions over them; When do admiration, praise, celebration, and accolades cross into worship? When does an idea become overblown? When do statues and trophies become idols and gods? When is a figure given more power than it truly possesses? It’s a discernment of the heart, what we elevate in our private worlds of hopes and motivations, as to whether a trophy has become a household god. Have I over-attributed my own power or the power of something else? Does it hold more than its deserved amount of loyalty? Is it controlling my desires and choices?
When we observe images and the power that appears to flow from them, may we challenge the source of power. “See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion (Isaiah 41:29).” “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).” We must be constantly asking ourselves this question. May we be sure to get our homage right.
Trophy Warrior by Audrey Opp-Waverick is now available at Amazon.com.
Cover Photo Credit; Negative Space. Pexels.com, 03/13/2017.