My wife bought me an icon of Elijah sitting and being fed by God through the delivery system of ravens. It has been with me now for over a month and I have worked to integrate it into my prayer life. When I have shown it to people the questions immediately come up:
What do the Greek words at the top of the icon mean? Is it significant that his robe and the water are the same color or that the tree in the bottom right corner has a branch broken off? What
These are not very interesting questions. Looking at this icon and asking questions about what can be seen is missing what the icon is pointing to. This icon, like all icons point to the unseen. For instance, this icon points the one who is praying to a deep truth about patience and waiting and trust. You cannot measure these things, but we can trust in them.
What makes an icon different from an idol is that the idol is dedicated to point to itself. The idol claims all that is powerful and meaningful is contained in the idol itself. We need not look beyond the idol to find "meaning". Idols can only point to themselves, while icons point to that which is beyond.
The difference between icons and idols is relevant when discussing our relationship with the Bible. There are many Christians who get tripped up with what the authority of the Bible really means and treat the Bible as an idol. Meaning that the Bible is the only place that God ever has or ever will speak. Using words like inerrant and infallible are attempts to elevate scripture but in reality it only lowers scripture to dead words on a page. The Bible is not an idol, it is more an icon that points us to the divine love that calls all things into being.
The first step in moving away from idolizing the Bible is to stop asking what does the Bible say and ask what does the Bible point us to?
Now we are talking icon.