The stone image can’t even wave away a fly on its face. It can be broken by vandals. How can such an image be God?
When God manifests himself through any material manifestation, the divinity of that manifestation is demonstrated not by its potency to break material laws, but by its potency to bring about spiritual transformation among the sincerely devoted.
To understand this, let’s consider another material manifestation of the divine: the scriptures. Many of those who object to the practice of Deity worship still consider the scriptures sacred. Frequently they even worship those sacred texts as if they were divine. Yet can those sacred texts not be torn or burnt by the faithless? Obviously, they can be. But does this make them any less divine? Not at all. The divinity of these texts cannot be experienced by defiantly tearing them apart to check whether they miraculously save themselves. Their divinity can be experienced only by reading them with a devotional service attitude. The same principle applies to the Deity.
Can the Deity not wave away the fly? He can, but he doesn’t. Why? Because the Lord does not manifest himself as the Deity to prove his omnipotence. In fact, the Lord generally does not manifest his omnipotence in this material world. Why? Because this world is provided as a facility for those souls who want to enjoy separate from God. All of us were originally with God in his eternal spiritual kingdom, but we wanted to enjoy by imitating him instead of serving him. By this desire, we exiled ourselves to this material world to play out our fantasies of becoming the best – of becoming God. But God being supreme is eternally the best in everything. If he were to manifest his omnipotence in this word, then nobody would have any chance to play God. So, he graciously facilitates our desire to enjoy separate from him by not directly manifesting his omnipotence here.
God waits patiently for us to learn our lessons. He wants us to realize for ourselves that, no matter how big and powerful we become, we can never be happy without loving him. So, he allows us to love whatever we want. But he also tirelessly waits for us to turn to him. As soon as we get the slightest such desire, He starts providing us facilities to love him again. One of the most important of such facilities is the Deity. The Deity offers us what no other divine manifestation does: the opportunity to serve God personally by beholding, bowing down, praying, touching, bathing, dressing, decorating and offering food.
At the ordinary levels of religion – the levels of fear and desire, people worship God and demand protection and prosperity in exchange for the worship. Deity worship offers the opportunity to worship God at a much loftier level of love wherein the devotees consider themselves servants of God and want to offer him everything they possibly can – including protection.
Therefore, devotees consider it their prime duty to do everything to prevent the Deity from being vandalized. God manifests himself as the Deity not to prove his omnipotence to those bent on defying him, but to give a facility for those eager to serve him. When the faithless try to desecrate the Deity, the Lord simply unmanifests himself from the Deity so that they can inflate their illusion by imagining that there is no God in the Deity. Of course, defiant acts like desecrating the Deities or desecrating sacred texts will eventually lead to grievous karmic consequences. Do such acts demonstrate the absence of God in the Deity? Not at all to those who understand the purpose of the Deity manifestation. To them, such acts only demonstrate the utter absence of genuine God consciousness among the vandals.
Coming to the fly question, how should we respond on seeing a fly near the Deity on the altar? Philosophically, we should understand that the Deity has allowed the fly there to graphically show how we are neglecting our service to the Deity, how we are not keeping the altar clean. Practically, we should hasten to remove the fly and make arrangements by which flies will not disturb the Deity again. The point is that the devotees see the Deity as a special, invited divine guest and so feel duty-bound, in fact love-bound, to offer the Deity the best possible service.
Although God can never be insulted, that he manifests himself in forms that can apparently be disrespected is a sign of his extraordinary love for us. This is beautifully expressed by Pillai Lokacharya, a great South Indian saintly teacher: “This is the greatest grace of the Lord, that being free He becomes bound, being independent He becomes dependent for all his service on the devotee… In other forms, man belonged to God. But behold the supreme sacrifice of Ishvara [Krishna] in the form of the murti, for here the almighty becomes the property of the devotee…. He carries the Lord about, fans him, feeds him, plays with him-yea, the Infinite has become finite, that the child soul may grasp, understand, and love him.”