Uncovering Idols (Part 3): Beauty Magazines and the Idol of Image Projection
Note: This is the last post taken from the manuscripts of a series I preached titled “Uncovering Idols.”
Human beings were created to “image” God. Because of sin we cannot properly “image” God. But the Spirit conforms us to the ‘Image of Christ’ and we are enabled to do what we were created for.
Idolatry is difficult to uncover in our society because it is so subtle, so covert. We don’t necessarily worship idols formed from wood and stone. Our idolatry is hidden in our hearts. Remember that “an idol is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
What makes “uncovering idols” even more complicated is that are idols are, on the one hand formed by our inner desires, and at the same time socially shaped. In other words, our idolatry is “generated from within and insinuated from without.” Idolatry is a problem rooted deeply in the human heart, but is also powerfully imposed on us from our social environment. So, in order to understand idolatry we need to
- Examine the world around us.
- Examine the world within us.
This is extremely important for the subject we are examining tonight, “the idol of image projection.” The very idea of “image” is quite informative on what it actually means to be a human being. In Genesis 1: 27 we are told that;
God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
“Unlike the rest of creation, we are made in God’s image,” we were made to literally ‘image God.’ Humans were created for this very purpose, to image, to mirror, to represent God within creation order. Let’s make an honest observation: If humans were made to reflect God in our world something has gone wrong. In fact, a quick glance at the world around us reveals that something has gone terribly wrong. If we truly reflected God as we should, things would not be as they are. Now, as Christians we understand that our projection, or “reflection of God” has been ‘perverted, corrupted, and distorted.’ by sin. Yet at the same time the mirror has not been completely shattered. “Imaging” is still a very important aspect of human function, it’s what we were created to do. We just reflect the wrong things; we mirror God in the wrong way.
Our Culture: A Reflection on Self Image
If you need to be convinced of the importance of “image in our culture” consider what’s projected at you as you pass through what one author called the ‘gauntlet of temptation’, more commonly known as the magazine racks in the checkout line. We have all seen it. On each of these magazine covers a message is proclaimed, a message reflecting what it looks like to have “the good life.” The images communicate to you that;
- ‘This’ is what it looks like to be significant!
- To be secure in who you are, you must have or look like ‘this!’
- ‘This’ is what it feels like to have fulfillment!
- You will have comfort if you surround yourself with ‘these’ things!
In the supermarket checkout line you are presented with a mosaic of images on magazine covers, images that reflect “the fulfilled life.” While standing in line you enter “a place of possibilities where you can imagine your life differently” a place where you can “choose who you will be.” The message here is simple, “by the choices you make, you tell the world who you are” Typically, this “ideal image” that is being projected can be accomplished by the purchase of certain products.
Think about it, we can construct our image by the things that we adorn ourselves with; how we posture ourselves. We communicate “our meaning” in various ways,
- Our appearance communicates something about who we are.
- Where and how we live communicates something about who we are.
- How we talk, what we say, communicates to others who we are.
- Our accessories and the things we own tell the world who we are.
In our culture it’s about projecting your significance, your “meaning” to the world around you, and “our preoccupation is with the outward appearance” is very clear. The most obvious cultural example of what I am talking takes us back to the line at the super market. Consider magazine covers again. I think one author put it well when he wrote that “magazines peddle unrealistic hopes to people desperate for some version of the good life.” Magazines sell an unrealistic ideal.
The covers of these magazines are imprinted with our cultural gods known as celebrities. In many ways they have become “the physical manifestation of the fulfilled life.” They represent what we are told we need to be.
Take this months “O” magazine for example. This particular magazine typically features articles on relationships, spirituality, health, and helpful tips on just about everything. Just like many other magazines this one features a celebrity or cultural guru who is aptly pictured and invites us to participate in the fulfilled life. In this particular magazine the cover shot is of a celebrity/guru, and by the way, she is on the cover of “O” every month.
Listen to what this particular magazine promises;
- “Who are you meant to be: A Step-by-step guide to finding your life’s purpose.”
- “How to talk so people really listen: 4 ways to make yourself heard.”
- “Plus: 28 questions that will change the way you see yourself.”
Everything is geared towards “creating an image” for yourself. Now, let’s break the cliché literary rule and make a few judgments about magazines based on their cover, just based off the cover shot. Think about this for a second. In preparation for this image to make the cover of the magazine this celebrity;
- She goes into several hours of hair and make-up.
- They create a set with ideal lighting and backgrounds that accentuate the colors in her clothing and shaded in her makeup.
- They shoot hundreds if not thousands of angles.
- Once a photo is chosen, it then enters into a multiple phase manipulation process where a graphic designer adjusts the light and dark contrast, the colors, removes any blemishes in the skin, crops, and so on.
This is the absurdity of our cultural attempt to “image” fulfillment, as manifested in magazine covers. They present you with a person that embodies the “image” of the fulfilled life. But the person presented is not the person as they actually are. This is the paradox, what is represented as the ideal does not actually exist. In reality we do not get an actual image of this person. We get an image of what she wants to be perceived as.
This is something that we need ponder. There are many times when we try and cover who we actually are by projecting an image of ourselves that is not actually true. So we project an image not of who we are, but what we would like others to see us as. In other words, we try and cover our true selves.
The Twofold Perversion of “Image”
As human beings we find comfort in mere “window dressing,” or “fig leaves” that we hide behind. This started in the Garden of Eden. See, before the fall Adam and Even were pure and clearly reflected the image of God. This is why humanity was made, to reflect the glory of God. This is where we were meant to find our significance, our worth, our security, our comfort.
Our image is a derivative image; it is derived from the one who created us. When we sinned, we were cast away from clearly reflecting the glory one whom we derive our image. This created a problem because we were created to reflect God’s glory. And now we were left to ourselves, to reflect ourselves. Therefore, since the fall we have tried to glorify our own image by adorning ourselves with all types of functional fig leaves. In short, we begin to bow to the idol of self-image. Two quick observations from Genesis that provide ‘examples of’ and ‘explain why’ creating and reflecting our own “image” is so devastating;
1. The fall was preceded by a heightening exaltation of “our image.”
Genesis 3:6– So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Adam and Eve wanted to be higher than God. In disobeying God’s clear command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, our first parents exalted themselves above God taking things into their own hands. They decided to “create their own image” apart from their creator. Reminds us of Paul’s word in his letter to the Romans in chapter 1, “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” Which begs us to head Paul’s warning later on in 12 “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Simply put, a heightened sense of “image” leads to unreasonable pride.
2. The fall was followed with a lowering perversion of “our image”
Genesis 3:7- “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
Now Adam and Eve felt ashamed of themselves, and rightly so. Their self image became wholly negative- with a devastating shame and worthlessness. They no longer clearly reflected the God who made them. In verse 10 we see that shame revealed itself in fear. Adam hid from God in the garden. Even in us we see the effects of this shame in human despair. Here is the point of pointing out these two;
- heightening exaltation of “our image.”
- lowering perversion of “our image”
We (as humans) still fluctuate between these two today. “Man’s image is sometimes extremely high (in the form of sinful pride) or excessively low (in the form of feelings of shame and worthlessness).” Both cases are perversions of our created “image.” More often times than not we “exalt our image” as an attempt as a cover who we truly are. When we truly see ourselves for who we are, its obvious that left to our own devises we offer nothing but shame. I would argue that vacillating between these two (pride and despair) is inevitable when humanity cannot clearly reflect God.
Human beings were created to “image” God. Because of sin we cannot properly “image” God. (Then where do we turn?) But the Spirit conforms us to the ‘Image of Christ’ and we are enabled to do what we were created for. (This keeps us from pride, and keeps us from despair.
But, I would not hesitate to guess that many of us in this room find ourselves vacillating between pride and despair because when don’t have a proper understanding, or forget who we are in Christ. Here’s our hope, we have a good God, a God who is on “mission is to restore creation to its full original purpose of [reflecting his glory].” This proper “image of God” is, is being, and will be restored to us through Jesus Christ.
Restoration: Jesus Christ the “Image of God.”
1. God’s Image Revealed in Christ
Colossians 1:15- “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Though God is invisible, through Christ God becomes visible. Christ is the pure reflection of God! So the one who looks to Christ is actually looking to God. There is a remarkable passage in Hebrew’s proclaiming this same glorious truth.
Hebrews 1:3- “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Think about that, Christ radiates the glory of the Father. In other words, Christ is the mirror image of God. Every trait, ever characteristic, every quality found in the Father is seen in the Son, who is the exact representation.
We begin to understand what it means to be created in the image of God as we look at Christ. As we are conformed to the image of Christ, the image of God will be restored. In fact, being ‘conformed into the image of Christ’ is the purpose for which God has chosen his people. Romans 8:29- “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Equivalent to the “image of God”) This is the purpose of redemption, to restore the image of God to man.
2. God’s Image Reflected from Christ
1 John 3- “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Think about that “we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.”
You will be conformed to him as you look at him “as he is.” Christ is the pure image of God. He does not need make up or digital manipulation, He is perfect “without spot or blemish.” Yet we often attempt to conform ourselves to the images of cultural gods who are not pictured as they actually are. Listen to the words of Paul.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all behold the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness, from one degree of splendor to the next, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor.3:18)
The complex verb that Paul uses is which means “to behold in a mirror.” “This word combines the ideas of looking long and hard at something, and resembling or reflecting something. We are called to long, contemplative gazing at the Lord Jesus and changing so as to reflect his image.”
The more we gaze at and contemplate Jesus, the more the Spirit shows us his glory and the more we become transformed into the likeness of what we see. As we look at Christ we realize in our hearts His beauty. In other words, the Spirit conforms you by affecting the heart by what you see in the person and work of Christ.
3. God’s Image Restored Through Christ
“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Tim Keller unpacks the description of “putting on” Christ like a garment, which implies several important things
a) That our primary identity is in Christ. Our clothing tells people who we are. Clothing is a way of showing that we are identified with others of the same gender, social class national group. But to say that Christ is our clothing is to say that our ultimate identity is found, not in any of these classifications, but in Christ alone!
b) The closeness of our relationship to Christ. Your clothes are kept closer to you than
any other possession you have. You rely on them for shelter every moment. They go everywhere with you (hopefully). So to say Christ is our clothing is to call us to moment-by-moment dependence and awareness of Christ. We are to spiritually “practice his presence.”
c) Our acceptability to God. Finally, clothing is worn as adornment. It covers our nakedness. To say that Christ is our clothing is to say that in God’s sight we are loved because of Jesus’ work and salvation. This is why the gospel restores our original “image” which is not based on cultural standards or comparisons with others. Only the gospel keeps us from being prideful or disdainful of our image.
The gospel creates a new self-image. The gospel keeps us from excessive pride or excessive despair. In Christ we are a “new creation.”
Self-image can be a very elusive idol that absorbs our heart and imagination before we realize it. There is this cultural assumption that a reflecting a particular image of oneself will bring security, comfort, significance, worth. No! In Christ alone will you find your security, comfort, significance, and worth!
The question tonight is simple: “Is your sense of identity found in who you are as a child of God or how others to perceive you?” Like a mirror we reflect whatever we are oriented towards. We reflect what we revere.
We have a desire to reflect and mirror because this is what we were created to do, we are imagers. Human beings were created to “image” God. Because of sin we cannot properly “image” God. But the Spirit conforms us to the ‘Image of Christ’ and we are enabled to do what we were created for.
-  Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii, 2009.
-  David Powlison, Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair”, 36, 1995.
-  D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God, 204, 1996.
-  For a good discussion see Anthony Hoekema’s book Created in God’s Image on pages 66-101.
-  See Neil Postman’s classic book Amusing Ourselves To Death for a fascinating treatment on this subject.
-  Kevin Vanhoozer commenting on Thomas Hines’ book “I Want That: How we all became shoppers.”
-  Ibid
-  David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 77, 2005.
-  David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant, 148, 2008.
-  Jeremy Lawson, Michael Sleasman, and Charles Anderson, a chapter titled ‘The Gospel According to Safeway’ in Everyday Theology, 68, 2007.
-  Ibid, 71.
-  Albert Mohler, The Disappearance of God, 68, 2009.
-  Adapted from Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God, 187, 2006.
-  Tim Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Leaders Guide, 2003.
-  In G.K. Beale’s book We Become What We Worship he explores Idolatry within the context of this theme. The main argument he sets to prove in this book is “we resemble what we revere, either for our ruin or restoration.” (49)