Image and Idolatry

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A quick search online reveals that a lot of us have image problems. Not only do you and I have image problems, but it seems like every category of person, career, human activity, and individual has an image problem.

The Satanic Inversion of the Image of God

As I mentioned in my message this past weekend, “I am More than My Image,” the deepest root of our image problem is the Satanic inversion of how God created us in His image. In Genesis 3:1-7, we can see three aspects of this inversion within the dialogue between the serpent and Eve:

  1. Satan questions the truth of God (“Did God really say?…”) – something which humans in original innocence took for granted as true and good
  2. Satan questions the motivation or rationale of God’s truth (“You will not certainly die…for God knows…”) – something which humans in original innocence took as in their best interest
  3. Satan questions the human relationship with God (“And their eyes were opened”) – the original harmony (shalom) or relationship is no disrupted

The opening of eyes gives more than humanity bargained for as this taints the image of God within humanity. That image is still there – an amazingly good reflection of God in our lives – but it is fogged over and cracked like a damaged mirror.

Human Dissonance about Image and God’s Guidelines

As we look at the story of the Bible after Genesis 3 we see that humanity tends toward putting the self at the center. Not only that, but we construct the world in a way that lifts up images outside of us and inside of us that are contrary to God and His ways. This is a direct reflection of the dissonance we experience as a result of the Satanic inversion of the image of God in Genesis 3. 

We know this because we each encounter this dissonance between who we really are and the image we seek to construct. Sometimes we encounter that dissonance in our personal relationships as we sense a distance between how we present ourselves and how others perceive us, and at other times we encounter it via social media platforms in the distance between our profile and our reality. It is not the human relationships or social media are inherently evil, but that we are constantly wrestling with the ways we present ourselves and the way people perceive us. This dissonance shows that our identity is out of focus.

Because of this dissonant experience of humanity, God offers guidelines and rules for living on earth. Because of the Satanic inversion in which our relationship with God is disrupted, we now question both the content of those guidelines and the motivation behind those guidelines. However, these guidelines and rules are intended to cultivate and maintain a flourishing life for the individual and for the community. Like guard rails that keep us on the road and safe from a precipitous drop, they are aimed at protecting us.

We are confused about God, about ourselves, and about life. God reveals guidelines to speak to us on all of those points, and ultimately to lead us to Him.

Our Tendency to Make Images

Right near the beginning of the Ten Commandments, the sort of archetypal guidelines of God, comes a strange restriction on making images.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:4-5)

Our tendency as contemporary people, particularly in the Western world, is to assume that this is a vestige of a world-gone-by and not something we deal with anymore. However, this is not true. Human existence is an image-making factory.  We construct idols all of the time. As Tim Keller writes in his outstanding book Counterfeit Gods:

We would not lie unless we first had made something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God. The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart. (166)

God makes the restriction against idolatry – the creation of images – because these idols shape our lives, our identity, and our conception of God. If worship is fundamentally allegiance to something in way that it guides all of who we are in life, then the creation of idols – images – is a reflection of the allegiances of our life.

Perhaps idolatry is not some worn-out earlier idea, but still one of the most fundamental errors of our human life flowing out of the Satanic inversion of the image of God in our lives. If we want to be free then we need to recognize and take down those false images of who we are and come back to the only One, Jesus, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), in whose image we were made.

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