The Image of God: How to See the Invisible
Quickly, now. Are we allowed to make and worship images of God?
If you know the Ten Commandments, you’ll answer with a resounding “No!”—and you should. The command against “an idol of any kind or an image of anything” (Exodus 20:4, NLT) not only makes God’s top-ten list, it’s repeated several other places in the Bible. God insists that no visible image can do him justice. We may never, ever make any image purported to be of God nor even think of God that way. Moses made it strikingly clear that God is beyond visible form: “Be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16, NLT).
There. That’s settled. If you’re trying to get to know God, the rule against images might leave you struggling to comprehend him—but that’s the point, isn’t it? God is so amazing that to make an appropriate, accurate image of him is impossible.
And then along comes Jesus.
The invisible made visible
Colossians 1:15 says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (NLT). Second Corinthians 4:4 calls him “the exact likeness of God” (NLT).
I mentioned all the commands about images first because, without that background, we tend to read how Jesus is the image of God and shrug. We’re used to the idea that Jesus is God. We learned that in Sunday school. Everyone knows that.
But it ought to astound us in two ways.
First, Jesus is the sinless image of God we fail to be. The first chapter of the Bible tells us, “God created human beings in his own image” (Genesis 1:27, NLT). That’s a different sort of image than a statue for worship, and not the exact likeness Jesus is. But it still means that a God-like influence will cover the world if we live as we were created to live. Alas, each of us fails. Our sin taints the image of God within us. Jesus the man is the one human representative who behaved in this world with the full beauty befitting an image bearer of God.
Second, as God, Jesus lets us know God. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9, NLT). We can comprehend God after all, because we have an Image. God allows no others because there exists one—only one—Image who shows us perfectly, exactly what God is like. There’s one Image that amazing, not made by us but provided by God himself.
The unknowable made known
Here’s what all this means for my life. For starters, I need constant faith in Jesus. The same passage that says he’s God’s image also says he “purchased our freedom and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1:14, NLT). The only hope I have of being the image bearer God created me to be is if I’m joined to the Image, trusting him to pay for my sin and renew my soul.
Even better, I get to know God. If God had allowed us a visual image of Jesus—let’s say a fine, painted portrait—historians would pore over it with magnifying glasses and infrared scanners. Well, in the Bible we have a portrait of him that’s full of detail and intricacies and wonder. I must engage it with awe and examine every brushstroke. I must see his thousand perfections, his majesties, his rhythm of life, and his giving unto death—and fit them together for a panorama of God.
I could do this forever and never stop being amazed by him. I could learn more about Jesus for eternity and always be startled by new beauties. In fact, I suspect I will.
This article is part of a series on the names of Jesus. Next time: The Prophet.
Jack Klumpenhower is a writer and children’s ministry worker living in Colorado.