If it is true that no one ever sees God directly, then a lot about faith has to be left to the imagination. In order for faith to enliven the soul as well as enlighten the mind, it must have inspiring images at its disposal.
And it does, in spite of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’s insistence that it shouldn’t. To them, God long ago condemned celebrating imagination alongside of belief and taking as much satisfaction in creativity as from obedience.
The second of the Ten Commandments prohibits regarding anything carved or sculpted out of wood, stone, or metal as a representation (pesel) of God. And also anything looked at in the skies and beyond (temunah).
No explanation is given of why creating images like these was of such concern to God. The Third Commandment prohibits worshipping them, but this is not the same thing as prohibiting them altogether.
It is difficult to take seriously the notion that carvings or sculptures or paintings or drawings — or cartoons — can undermine faith. But mental images may be another story.
Here is one that the world definitely would be better off without. At Exodus 17:4 appears an image of God resolving “to blot out all memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And with him, the people he ruled.
For what reason? The historical answer is because the tribal king’s warriors may have attacked the once wandering Hebrews for, perhaps inadvertently, invading territory his tribe had occupied for centuries. The theological answer is that their attacks got in the way of a divine plan to create a community that would be more favored than any other, forever.
Neither answer yields an image of a god that could possibly represent a being truly worthy of utmost devotion. And yet the image, along with many others like it in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, persists and continues to create its own brand of discord in the search for a credible faith.
But the solution to this challenge is not to excise mental images altogether. It is to confront terrible images with comforting and uplifting ones.
My own most comforting one is an image of God’s suffering the pain of every human being even more than each of its sufferers do. My most uplifting one is of God’s imaging us as one day loving the world as much as he always has.