Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
Q. In the Unknown Life of Jesus Christ Jesus says that we should not worship images of God or deities. Is this worship really wrong?
A. There is a great difference between worshipping a material image and worshipping God through that image. A primitive person having never before seen a telephone would assume that someone using it is talking to the phone receiver, but we would know that he was speaking through the receiver to the person on the other end. It is the same with spiritual imagery. We who understand that God is at the heart of all existence are aware that we can relate to him and even communicate with him through a material image. It will be according to our understanding and intention.
The ignorant and the simplistic always think that the problem lies with an object rather than the user of the object. What is needed, however, is a spiritual perspective on our part. Then no matter how involved we are with imagery we will never be "idolators." After all, we know that a person is only spirit (atman) and not the body. But we speak to their body, give gifts to the body, embrace and even honor that body, and no one accuses us of materiality. We are relating to the essential spirit by means of their body vehicle. It is the same with the use of religious imagery. It is a matter of spiritual intelligence. Those who lack that intelligence will never get the idea. Jesus was speaking to those whose ignorance made them idolators.