Image is everything in modern culture. Take for instance the shopping mall. More than showcasing merchandise, malls resemble ancient temples or medieval cathedrals—places of worship where the spirit is lifted. Along with designer jeans and exotic coffees, you can fashion for yourself an improved image, one in which people take pride.
Concern for image sometimes reveals itself in ways that are less than subtle. Consider, for instance, the following personal ad from New York magazine:
Strikingly Beautiful: Ivy League graduate. Playful, passionate, perceptive, elegant, bright, articulate, original in mind, unique in spirit. I possess a rare balance of beauty and depth, sophistication and earthiness, seriousness and a love of fun. Professionally successful, perfectly capable of being self-sufficient and independent, but I won’t be truly content until we find each other…Please reply with a substantial letter describing your background and who you are. Photo essential.
Over and against such blatant hubris, there is a concern for image that is not only acceptable; it is actually basic to our Christian identity and calling. The Apostle Paul says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) To properly understand what this means, we must consider God’s original creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden—the place where image projection started.
Created in God’s image, Adam and Eve were like angled mirrors. Positioned faithfully beneath God, a visage of holiness shone down upon them and reflected outward to the world. Unfortunately, the first couple committed treason against the Creator, and with fruit juice on their lips, the image of Adam and Eve was shattered. In shame, they were expelled from the garden, unable to convey divine holiness as they had previously. This legacy of disgrace is our birthright.
With such a shameful heritage, the human race desperately seeks to restore its shattered image by grasping the world’s possessions. Money, leisure, sex, power, fashion, corporate promotions, and fame all promise wholeness. Like wild elephants, we charge toward these allurements. Many people reach the end of their lives surrounded by these hollow icons to find that the promise of fulfillment was a cruel sham.
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave his creation to die in deception, duped by illusory hopes. Jesus, the visible image of God’s glory, personally addressed our problem. As God’s Son projected divine beauty and holiness, he did something that virtually no one anticipated—he died. As a substitute for humanity, the love of God went to the Cross.