Mormon podcast producer Bill Reel recently sat down with Greg Prince to discuss his biography on church president David O. McKay. In an anecdote that didn’t make it into the book, Prince related a personal interview he had with well-known Mormon painter Arnold Friberg. The ensuing story, which starts at about 22:30 into the podcast, involves McKay’s quip, “The Finite cannot comprehend the Infinite.” The verbatim transcript follows below.
Friberg was commissioned by [Adele C.] Howells, who was the general president of the Primary, to paint some depictions of episodes from the Book of Mormon. Everybody in the church is familiar with those paintings. For years and years they published reproductions of them in the Book of Mormon. Eventually, I think, there were 12 paintings.
Well, Arnold said as he was working on the concepts for these, he was consulting with President McKay. And President McKay said, “I don’t want the personage of the Savior included in any of your paintings.” And Arnold said, “Well, Jesus is central to the Book of Mormon message.” McKay’s response was, “The finite cannot comprehend the infinite.”
Now, if you go into any chapel in the Church today, you’re probably going to see pictures of Jesus all over the place. That’s not where David O. McKay was coming from. And I think we’ve lost something by trying to close artificially that gap between the finite and the infinite. That, if you’re willing to maintain that distance, if you’re willing to look with awe upon the infinite, I think that puts you in a better and certainly in a more humble place.