We are commanded against having “graven images or any likeness.” Yet I always see pictures of Christ at church, even in the visitors centers of the Mormon Temples. How does this not contradict with that commandment?
When reading the scriptures, it is necesssary to include the complete thought in order to understand what the Lord is communicating. That may take at least a complete sentence, or sometimes as much as a paragraph. It is also important to understand that sentence composition and structure in biblical times among Bible people did not follow the modern English idiom. So a true understanding of the scriptures is sometimes really difficult. In the last analysis, God’s word in the holy scriptures can only be understood by the spirit of inspiration and revelation that proceeds from God to man. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 that
9 as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
(A more correct rendition of this scriptural phrase would be but by the Spirit of God). So Paul tells us that the scriptures are not subject to man’s reasoning, but can only be understood by the Spirit of God. With that preamble, let’s look at the scripture to which you refer, found in Deuteronomy 5:7-9,
7 Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
8 Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:
9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
The context here relates to the representation AND the function for which the graven images are made and used. There is no doubt that it is no sin to have a picture of a loved one in your wallet. In that act there is no concept of bowing down, or worshipping the image rather than God. As an extension of that concept, other pictures, paintings or sculptures that are used to bring to mind either scenes, noted characters, or even angels, as long as there is involved no consept of substituting these representations for Deity and worshiping them rather than the true God, are not offensive to God, and indeed are not prohibited by the intent of Holy Writ.