Many Christians believe that the second commandment has always only been against making an image of God and using it as a worship aid, like Roman Catholicism promotes in practice. (The Eastern Church’s icons are usually up for grabs.) A growing number of Protestants who avoid crucifixes and such will say that the commandment is addressing carved images or possibly God’s divine nature but certainly not Jesus’ human nature acted out in a movie.
Are Christians taking in a Jesus film merely to get a glimpse of the Lord’s humanity, or are they looking to be spiritually edified by a visual depiction of the God-man? If they’re looking for spiritual edification, then the accompanying sin is that of false worship through the mediation of an image of Christ, which is forbidden under the second commandment. If the aim is not spiritual edification, then the pursuit is a vain thing and, therefore, forbidden under the third commandment. If the second commandment refers only to false gods and not the living God, then the second commandment collapses into the first commandment leaving us with nine commandments.
What I think is most times overlooked is that Jesus’ personality is that of the Second Person of the Trinity and not just any human personality. God could not have given the incarnate Christ my personality for instance, and we reject adoptionism. No, the incarnate Christ has the personality of the eternal Son while being fully God and fully man. Added to this, an actor, no matter how good, cannot help but project his own personality (blended with a scripted personality) onto the screen. He cannot portray the personality of another perfectly – let alone the personality of the Second Person of the Trinity even approximately. Therefore, the actor who would dare play the Christ cannot but project a false image of God even if he sticks to the written script of Scripture. It’s not as though verbal tone and body language do not proceed from personality. In fact, the reverse is true. Reactions of persons convey ideas that are propositional in nature. These picture-words are being passed off as God’s communication.
The idea of perichoresis as it relates to the hypostatic union is relevant to this discussion and should inform our thinking on the second commandment as it relates to images of Christ in movies. We can rightly say that the divine nature penetrates the human nature (yet without commingling or confusion of the distinct natures of Christ). Although the two natures of Christ are indeed distinct (i.e., there is no transfer of properties), the divine works of the Second Person, though they do not originate with the human nature, are performed through the human nature by the divine Son. Also, the three persons of the Trinity although distinct, they mutually indwell each other and “share the same divine space,” as it were. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, Luke 4:1; the Father indwells the Son, John 14:10, etc. To see Jesus is to see not only his humanity but God with us, Immanuel.
The divine nature precedes the human nature in the incarnation. The Son of God became man. Accordingly, although the omnipresent divine nature penetrates the human nature in a qualified sense, the reverse is not true. The human nature never penetrates the divine nature. In the time of Jesus’ humiliation, no less than now as the exalted Christ, this divine penetration results in Jesus’ tone of voice and body language. May Jesus be accurately portrayed as effeminate or would his divine nature forbid such a penetration to his human nature? Would He grin or appear disappointed in the same way and over the same things as any mortal actor? We must also remember, the human nature of Christ could never be observable in isolation from the divine person and hence His eternal nature. This human nature belongs to a divine person who is as fully God as he is fully man. To see Christ the human being is to see God in the flesh. To see Jesus thirst is to see the Second Person thirst in His humanity. And so, to see the divine works of Jesus is to see them through the workings of Jesus the human being. So, we may not say we’re going to see a movie on Jesus’s humanity, as if something is not being alleged about His divinity. One of the goals of the incarnation is that upon gazing on Jesus we might also exclaim, “my Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28). We might also note that the crucifixion is being put forth in such depictions but not the work of the cross. Propitiation cannot be captured in cinematography.
Given the art that depicts Jesus, it’s no wonder that he is not seen by the church as the Ancient of Days, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the God of Psalms 2 and 3 (for instance). The Lord Jesus is more often depicted as a defeated suffering servant who deserves our pity and needs our help than the King of Glory. Such a Savior doesn’t command the church.
What possibly intrigues me most in all of this is that when I watch a movie I have no problem suspending my beliefs so that the actor may “become” for me the character. So, Al Pacino becomes The Don and Anthony Hopkins becomes C.S. Lewis. No necessary sins there I trust. Do Christians do the same when watching Jesus movies? If they shouldn’t, then what should that tell us? Obviously, Christians are to be on their guard because they should realize that the actor will not be faithful to the Second Person. But that presupposes a false image, a violation of the second commandment. We don’t know Jesus’ facial expressions, etc. but such expressions from an actor often speak a thousand words. Are those words consistent with the Son of God? More to the point, are they His words? If not, then how are movies such as this not putting words in God’s mouth? How is that not to construct a false image?