“If God would only show himself I would be satisfied.” This seeking statement is quite ancient and easy to understand. Even Moses wanted to see God to counter his own nagging doubts. This desire for a visible god was mankind’s inspiration to create idols. The idols were usually not seen as the god themselves but as images of the god. Of course images were not quite what we think of today because many of the ancients believed the essential characteristics of the god dwelt in the image and control of the image gave people (the priests and worshippers) a certain amount of influence with the god represented. The line between portraying god and the god portrayed was blurred. Having an image of one’s god was very important. We even see Aaron try to give this to his people when upon revealing the golden calf he says, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt,” (Exodus 32:4 NIV). Aaron followed their request for an idol. He gave them an image and claimed it to be the image of the god who had brought them out of Egypt—it appears he was trying to portray YHWH. By making an idol they would have a representation of the frightening invisible God—an image that might, from their perspective, give them a way to influence Him.
Paul tells us in Romans 1:23 that man very quickly exchanged the worship of the true God in favor of images of humans and animals. It is natural for man to want to see God and if God will not present himself then in our fallen state we will try to make an image of Him or even one in opposition to Him. In doing this we overlook the image God already gave us to interact with. Through our treatment of this image we actually please or displease God, whom this image represents. As I say this, most will be reminded of Jesus, of whom scripture says, “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15a NIV). While this is true and very important to remember, there is another image given by God that has been available all along.
Scripture teaches us that man is made in the image of God. This was stated in the very beginning of the creation story. When Moses said man was made in God’s image the ancients would have understood what this meant—or at least should have. God was ordaining mankind as the image of himself set upon the earth. This underlies the command to Noah concerning the treatment of killers, “for in the image of God has God made man,” (Genesis 9:6 NIV). God made an image of himself. While the perfect expression of that image was Christ Jesus, the image of God nonetheless is seen in the face of every person you come into contact with. One reason idols were so offensive to God was because those who were supposed to be His image were twisting that image into replacements for Him.
The image and the object were so morally intertwined that action towards one was action towards the other. When you look at your fellow man you are looking at the image of God. Blessing him blesses Him (capital differentiates the divine “Him” from the human “him”). Cursing him curses Him. Honoring him honors Him. Interaction with our fellow persons is interaction with the image of the God who created us both. How we treat this image is how we treat God. Such questions as, “Is there a God?” or, “What are divine attributes?” are not the only ones central to our faith. We must also ask, “How must I treat those around me?”
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV). Notice that the first two define our treatment of one another. The third includes the first two. Proper devotion to God includes our treatment of the image he gave of himself—each other.