The Image of God and the Idols of gods

While there are many Hebrew words for these different kinds of statues, the one were going to focus on is the word, selem, which shows up about 15 times throughout the Old Testament. While many Bible translations will sometimes translate this word as “idol,” some translations like the ESV, opt to always translate selem as image.” This is a fine translation, because what is a statue but an image of something?

But that word image should grab our attention, for the false gods were not the only ones with images. The one true God has His own images—and they are not statues—they are human beings.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

So before we get into heresy, let’s get a few things straight: (1) Humans are not God, and (2) you are not to be worshipped. When God refers to humanity as His selem He does not mean to imply these things. Rather, just as a selem/statue/image of a false god serves as a representation of the false god, so the selem/human/image of the one true God serves as a representation of the one true God. Just as the temples of the false gods had their selems, so the temple of Eden had its own as well. They went by the name of Adam and Eve and those two went on to give birth to descendants who were also made in God’s image (Gen 5:3).

This speaks volumes to our questions: Why are we here? Why do we exist? What’s our purpose in life? The answer is not only love in the abstract, but also to image in the actual. All earthly life exists because of love, but only one type of earthly life exists because of image. Only humanity is able to represent God on this planet. They have an ability and capacity that all other forms of life on earth do not have. They serve as a physical echo of their spiritual Creator and they look to mirror Him with their actions, words, and everyday decisions.

With this identity, all avenues of our work and lives become sacred, for we are able to represent God in everything we do. As Bible scholar Michael Heiser points out,

all human endeavor and enterprise has spiritual meaning—work is a spiritual exercise. Vocation is worship, no matter how mundane. Any task performed to steward creation, to harness its power for God’s glory and the benefit of fellow imagers, and to foster in the harmonious productivity of fellow imagers, is imaging God. 

Heiser, Michael S. “Image of God,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, Lexham Press, 2016.

And so ideally, we should all be catching glimpses of who God is in each other’s lives; for to gaze upon another human being is to gaze upon a representation of God. Of course we won’t alway see God very well in others. With sin in the world, God’s image in humanity has been tainted in countless ways. So for now we can only look to Jesus to see the perfect image of God (2 Cor 4:4), which is an image that Christians are being conformed to (Ro 8:29) and one day will inherit completely (1 Jn 3:2).

But even though our current image is tainted, the image is still upon us as God’s people. And it’s not just upon us as God’s people, but it’s upon all of humanity—even those who don’t recognize and worship God. For to be human is to be selem. To be born of man and woman is to be born with the purpose of representing God.

His desire is to have physical imagers fill the earth until the whole planet looks as He would have it look. He doesn’t want us to subdue the earth in the sense that we are to destroy it, but to subdue it in the sense that we are to further mold it into His likeness. He doesn’t want us to rule over creation in the sense that we can exert our every desire over it, but to rule over it in the sense that we treat our planet as God would. This is the mission of all of God’s selems, whether we accept that mission or not. We are to make the earth look like God would have it look—like Heaven.

We are to continue to fill the earth with God’s image however we can. We are to give birth to imagers who give birth to imagers who give birth to imagers, until the whole planet is filled with His image. God is seeking “Godly offspring” (Mal 2:15). He is looking for new imagers. This is grounded in His repetitive call to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28, 9:1,7).

Though Jesus calls us to continue making imagers in another way as well. While we can continue to give birth to and raise up proper imagers, Jesus has also sent us on mission to go out and reach the broken images already in the world. Rather than leave fallen imagers with their false gods, Jesus commands us to turn them back to the one true God, which, of course, will add God’s love and representation to the world exponentially.

As we Christians live out the true image that the Holy Spirit empowers us to live out, the world will be transformed. It will effect the way we treat our families, friends and enemies; our pets and livestock; the earth and the oceans; how we do our jobs and what kind of jobs we do; what we consume and fast from. All of these things and much, much more will begin to overflow with the representation of a loving God who has installed mission into our very DNA.

This is the call upon humanity. We are not to build selems of God because He already has one: You. And unlike the petty selems of the false gods, the one true God’s selems are living and breathing and moving entities, crafted by His own Spirit to do His work.

You are not pointless. You are not a happy accident. You are not purposeless. You are not powerless. You are not just sifting through this life and hoping to live happily ever after. You are born on mission, you live on mission and you die on mission—and as a Christian you will one day inherit the fullness of that completed mission when the new heaven and new earth come to fruition.


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