Culture At Large

God's relaxed attitudeabout image control

Paul Vander Klay

What do Florida farms, Andre Agassi, Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein all have in common? They know that "image is everything."

I was flabbergasted when I saw this piece on Salon. A Florida state senator proposed a bill that would make taking a picture of a farm in Florida illegal without the written consent of the owner. Can you imagine such a law? Ever take a picture from an airplane window? Ever take a picture from your car in a rural area? Try doing any of this without creating an image of a farm. Apparently the interest behind the legislation is the desire of some agribusinesses to manage their image.

Technology journalist and curmudgeon John C. Dvorak recently wrote a column suggesting that the real technological power behind the wave of Middle Eastern revolutions was not Twitter or Facebook but rather the lowly cell phone camera. Dictators like Qaddafi and Kim Jong-Il are obsessed with maintaining an image, but that image can be torn down with a camera phone and an Internet connection. During the second Gulf War journalists loved capturing pictures of crowds destroying the statues and portraits of Saddam Hussein. Images have real power and those who desire to preserve their power know that trying to control the creation and propagation of images is essential.

As I was mulling these news pieces over I also reflected on Genesis 1, where God creates man and woman in his image. As we watch Qaddafi try to look strong and tough instead of ridiculous as the Western powers take his military apart, as we watch silly and futile legislative efforts attempt to protect business interests, we might ponder the complex unity of absolute strength and humility that God exhibits in the management of his own image. God, in fact, affords the creation of his image to any two individuals who have the appropriate and functional biological equipment.

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is the ikon, the image of the invisible God. During Lent we focus on the image of the invisible God freely subjecting himself to the image-obsessed Herods and Pilates of the world. The one who could summon legions of angels subjected himself to temple guards, a kangaroo court, Roman execution and this taunt: "You saved others, why don't you save yourself?"

God's patience in refusing to secure his image property rights affords a public space where we might bear witness to him even at the expense of his own reputation. As you watch the powerful (or those who pretend to have power) of this world wrestle for control over their image, consider how this exercise bears witness to their futility. Consider also how the ikon of the invisible God is bloodied and killed by God's own image bearers, yet through that humiliation gains preeminence over all things.

What does it say about the author and renewer of the cosmos that he displays such recklessness in refusing to control the reproduction or behavior of these flesh-and-blood, two-legged image bearers? What application ought Christians take from this in terms of our concern for God's image in the world? And how might this impact how we feel about our own image and reputation?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, News & Politics, World, North America