Icon and Idols
In The Image (Reference to Genesis chapter 1)
Panayiotis Nellas, from Deification in Christ
The phrase “in the image” implies a gift within man but at the same time a goal set before him, a possession but also a destiny, since it really does constitute man’s being, but only in potentiality . . . Having been made in the image of God, man has a theological structure. And to be a true man he must at every moment exist and live theocentrically (God-centered). When he denies God he denies himself and destroys himself. When he lives theocentrically he realizes himself by reaching out into infinity; he attains his true fulfillment by extending into eternity . . . By making himself his own goal and objective, man becomes his own idol. Of his own free will he broke off his iconic relationship with God and impeded his movement toward Him. He made himself autonomous, limited himself to created space and time, to his created nature, with the physiological result that a spiritual famine broke out within him.
Idols and Icons
I love this passage from Panayiotis Nellas. I found it in one of my old Orthodox books, and it spoke to me. I am excited to pass it on to you.
I could talk about a dozen different things that he said, but I especially want to comment on his use of “icon” and “idol.” On one hand, there is a definite similarity between the two things. Both are objects, created things. Both are used in worship, both portray something divine (or at least “spiritual”).
But the essential difference between the two is this. An idol is something that human beings made and then chose to worship. Humans create things and then serve them. An idol is derived from a person, but then becomes lord of that person (or others). In the past, statues of pagan gods were idols. Today, our idols are somewhat different. They are institutions, buildings, cars, and money; they are relationships, college degrees, and careers. These are things that humans have made, but then have chosen to serve.
Icons, on the other hand, are visible images of the invisible God. They are not gods themselves, and are not meant to be served or worshiped. Rather, they are reflections meant to guide others to true worship. You and I, therefore, are called to be icons. This is what Nellas means when he says we have an “iconic relationship with God.” You and I are the visible images of the invisible God. Now, we are not perfect. Only one human has ever been perfect, the “image of God,” the Imago Dei, the true icon. However, we are also called to live out the truth of being created in God’s image.
Today, you are the icon of Christ. Just as you are, wherever you are. You are made in God’s own image. Having come to faith in Christ, you are filled with his Holy Spirit. Therefore, let us ask God for his grace today. Let’s ask him to help us live out the reality of this truth. Let’s go into the world as a witness of this reality; as image-bearers of the invisible God.
And let us also treat one another as icons. We are creatures designed to inspire one another to pure worship of our Lord. Imagine the love, respect, and compassion we would have for one another if we truly looked upon each other as images of the invisible God! Perhaps we would begin to fulfill Jesus’ great command “love one another as I have loved you.”