The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is beautiful. As artwork it’s perfect. Or, near enough at least. As religious iconography, though, it’s got one huge fault:
There’s a grey-headed old dude creating Adam.
And that’s a huge problem, because:
God’s not some grey-headed old dude.
OK, so, when it comes to icons and depictions of God and his saints, the teaching of the Christian Church is best expressed in a book by St. John of Damascus called Three Treatises on the Divine Images (you can find it here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/damascus/i…). In a nutshell, it says that you can’t really depict the Father because he’s incomprehensible. If you want to see the Father, you look at the Son. Jesus is the only pure Revelation of the Father. But the Father, as he is in his own essence, cannot be conceived or depicted.
Well, the Sistine Chapel is still beautiful artwork, and if things just stayed there, that’d be just fine.
The problem really isn’t the artwork. The problem is when we do that with our own conceptions of God. There’s always a tendency to turn God into something we can understand.
And we do it in all sorts of ways.
We might think that the Church’s use of the word “Father” or Jesus’s use of the word “Abba” means that God is actually male. We might listen to preachers who tell us what God arbitrarily likes and dislikes. As if God actually prefers straight hair over curly hair or prefers Handel over Mick Jagger or prefers the Hebrews over the Canaanites. (Btw, these are all real examples of things I’ve heard sincerely expressed. And in every single instance, God always seems to agree with the person telling me the story. Hmm…)
As soon as a person begins to worship their conception of God, they cease to worship God as he is. They worship themselves. They’ve left YHWH and devolved into paganism.
Plenty of people say they don’t believe in God when what they really don’t believe in is the guy on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I don’t believe in that guy either. Neither did Moses or Jesus or the Fathers of the Church.
We worship the God who is, as he is.