Idolatry and the Imago Dei: A Flat Contradiction
Credo Magazine’s newest issue has arrived: Idolatry. The following is an excerpt from John Kilner’s article. Dr. John F. Kilner holds the Forman Chair of Christian Ethics and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is the author of the award-winning book Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God.
Images point to something else, of which they are images. Whether the image is a statue of a “god” or a picture of a “successful” (wealthy, powerful, good-looking, etc.) person, the image in effect encourages people to worship something. When people orient themselves to such objects of devotion, they, too, become like and glorify those objects. A powerful dynamic overpowers the dynamic of being in the image of God. People, since they are inescapably in God’s image, should exclusively be living out God’s intentions for them to reflect godly attributes, to God’s glory. Yet they instead live out the implications of their identification with counterfeit gods. Such is the power and tragedy of sin. As Gregory Beale summarizes in his book title: We Become What We Worship.
This connection becomes explicit at various points in the Bible. In Psalm 135 the psalmist predicts, “Those who make [idols] and all who trust them shall become like them” (v. 18; cf. 115:8). The author of 2 Kings 17, reviewing the history of God’s people, is more specific: “They went after false idols and became false” (v. 15). So is Isaiah 44: A person “makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships….They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand” (vv. 17-18). “They” are the counterfeit god and the worshipper alike.
Revelation 13 portrays an ultimate choice that every person must make. People must decide whether they will embrace and live out their status as being in God’s image or prefer orienting toward another image instead. A lifetime of choices for or against idols has prepared them for this ultimate choice. Revelation’s image of the beast (associated with Satan, 12:9,18) epitomizes everything that stands opposed to God. Whereas being in God’s image is most specifically associated with the protection of human life (Gen. 9:6), the beast’s image exists for the destruction of human life (Rev. 13:15)—just as idolatry has often been associated with the destruction of human life (e.g., Jer. 7:30-31; Hos. 13:2-3; Hab. 2:17-18). The central issue in Revelation 13 is whom people will worship (v. 15). Those who choose to worship the beast become like the beast—a sort of image of the beast. In fact, they literally bear an image of the beast on their right hands or foreheads. Just as sin, in general, obscures evidence of being in God’s image, idolatry does the same. Click To Tweet
Humanity, then, has not only become connected to but also somewhat reflects—in other words, bears the image of—more than just God. Humanity bears the image of other “gods” as well as the image of fallen Adam. Just as sin, in general, obscures evidence of being in God’s image, idolatry does the same. People lose sight of the close connection between God and people, and the godly human attributes that God intends to flow from that connection fail to appear. However, neither people’s connection with God nor the intentions that God has for how people are to reflect God has changed. People remain in the image of God. That means there is hope.