And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:24-25
An image is a physical representation of an unseen object. What we cannot see, we can understand by analyzing an image of it. Photographs and paintings are images that help us remember what a person looks like when they are not there with us. For example, I have never met Queen Elizabeth the first, but I have seen images of her and have an idea what she looked like and how she dressed.
It is very common today to see people walk around with pictures of their loved ones in their wallets and purses. We believe it brings them very close to us even when they are physically distant. When we take a few moments to gaze at their image in the photo, it makes us feel as if they are very close by. It is like they were never gone. We can almost feel their presence, their touch. We can feel them through the images in their pictures.
I have lived in several countries and often have to leave after a few years due to the nature of my work. The problem with staying in a country for a few years is that you do not have enough time to build very tight friendships, which takes years of work. Just when you finally started to really know people, you have to get up and leave. You become so used to it that, in order to avoid the pain and sentiments of separation, you unconsciously begin to avoid cultivating tight friendships. In some places it works fine and you meet a lot of people. In others, loneliness becomes a part of the lifestyle. In such places, I take time out and gaze on my family album. When I see an image of my family, I can hear their voices, see their smiles, and I can feel their touch— all memories imprinted in my subconscious. After looking through my album, I no longer feel so alone. It feels like they are there with me.
This is, unfortunately, one of the principles misused in idolatry. It is believed that making an image resembling the gods brings their presence into the image. If you therefore pray before, touch, or kiss the image, you can touch the god represented by the image and receive his or her blessing. The image of the god is expected to usher the presence of the god into the people’s lives. So naturally people would build a shrine at the center of their city, decorate it with the image of their god and offer regular sacrifices in its presence. Furthermore, images of the gods are carried when traveling so that it is the first thing seen in the morning and the last at night. The graven images are given such high esteem that they became synonymous with the god they represented. We even see cases where the images are considered so powerful that they are worth stealing (Gen 31:30-33). I am not sure I would like to serve a god that can so easily be kidnapped or stolen.
Most times after a war, the conquerors would destroy the graven images of the gods of the conquered people. It has always been an effective tool in suppressing a religious group. In fact it was very effective at the height of the Greek and Ottoman empires. In Jerusalem, after the crucifixion, the Jews started a persecution of the Church (Acts 8:1 and Act 11:19) in a bid to stop the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:17-21 and Acts 13:48-50). However, when God does a thing, it is good and lasts forever, no one can annul or overthrow it (Jas 1:17 and Acts 5:34-39).
Persecution is not always the preferred approach to dealing with foreign gods. The Romans were masters of adoption. They would adopt foreign gods and absorb them into their ever-increasing portfolio of deities. They did it with the Palestinians, the Greeks, and even with Christianity. When the influence and reach of the early Church began to extend across the empire, the Romans at first saw it as a threat. They practiced the now infamous persecutions made popular by Emperor Nero and the coliseum.
Eventually, they realized that this was not a religion that would be hindered or eradicated by threats and violence, so they tried to adopt it, thereby unifying the empire again. Christianity eventually became the official religion of the whole Roman Empire and ‘non-Christians’ became the persecuted. Converting to Christianity is a great thing, except when the empire adopted it, true to tradition, they also assimilated the forms of worship of the other pagan cultures of the conquered territories. Ultimately, they merged all these religions into one to the point where the new Christianity would be unrecognizable to the early apostles. Today, pagan worship days have been ‘Christianized’; and idols in the figure of man and ‘sacred’ objects are routinely worshiped in Church. The Canaanite gods have been grafted unto Israel and we sit contented while the souls of many continue tumbling into hell. Our society is so perverse that blaspheming the name of the Most High comes natural to us. Adultery and fornication are no longer offensive, people have now progressed into the practice of sexecology to preserve the planet. They have sex with trees and dirt, and amazingly enough the movement is gaining ground. Human debauchery appears to have no limits. Because evil is so widespread, we assume that God understands when we disobey him. We think that because we live in a ‘modern’ world, God must modernize and Christian standards must change. The Bible however is clear, our God never changes (Mal 3:6 and Jas 1:7), neither will the standards by which He shall judge us all. Every time we follow in the perverse ways of the world, His likeness in us is gradually eroded away.
A healthy spirit, soul, and body is the godliest image we can possibly find. A spirit regenerated by faith in Christ, a soul nurtured by the Word of God, and a body anointed and preserved in a healthy state by the Holy Ghost together forms the perfect image—the God image.
Perks of the God Image
The passage in Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that, because of the image of God, man will have dominion over the rest of creation. How do I know this? After describing the dominion that man was to have, the Bible says, “So God made man in his image.” This image in man was sufficient to give him dominion over all of creation, a power he lost when sin came into the world. I believe that regeneration at conversion moves us in the direction of restoring this image and likeness. I also think that this is the reason why Christ claims that those who believe (are regenerated) shall cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents and poisons and be unharmed. Of course this is not a license to walk into a snake pit. Doing so would be tempting God. Rather, if you get bitten and cannot get treatment, God can keep you safe (Acts 28:3-6). The Bible also says that the believer will be given power to become the sons of God and have the power to heal (Jn 1:12 and Mk 16:17-18). In a nutshell, the full image of God is restored to what it was. This is the purpose of regeneration and the goal of our restoration.
What the Bible does in this passage is to show us how we were, to see how we are now, and what we shall become in Christ. All we can and will become is tied to His image and likeness in us. Hence the Bible constantly admonishes us to be like Him (Matt 5:48 and Php 2:5) and to study hard to renew our minds (Heb 10:16, Eph 4:24, and Jas 4:8). Let us put on the new man who is made in the image and likeness of God through knowledge (Col 3:10).