Idle Idols: Concealing the Imago Dei

By Jamin Casciato

Love, come, and let me find you lovely.

Humans have been hard at work for quite some time now erecting monuments to the Self in the “high places.” Excavation of the ruins of past civilizations reveals collective efforts at this task, whereas our rigidity, fear, and lack of relational authenticity today demonstrate continued effort from an individual standpoint. We have constructed idols of our respective images in stone—we cannot change, for we have plastered ourselves in place, have walled ourselves in. We have created a false image of ourselves, and at all costs attempt to preserve this monument from decay and change; we weatherproof ourselves through the seasons of life. Truly, we spend more time attempting to maintain the image of our lives than we do actually living them. We are unable to be who we are truly called to be because we have already accepted an impoverished personhood. It is too dangerous for us to be vulnerable, and to allow others a view into our true selves. Thus we become idle idols, rigid rocks locked in place by the bars of pretense. But we cannot grow until we are truly known. 

At what cost do we protect our sacred simulacra? At what point does the insurance policy become more burdensome than the potential accident? The true cost is life itself, which we forfeit for the sake of maintaining our tiny idols, our respective self-images.

We have mortgaged our lives in order to pay for the life insurance policy. It is interesting to note that stelae have been erected historically to serve funerary purposes. And thus the dead build their Towers of Babel instead of the living. We have become our gravestones—we commemorate our lives as opposed to living them because we are so afraid of revealing our true selves. What a crippling confession: that it is I who hold the key to my own dungeon…the one I have constructed for myself. We have enshrined ourselves within that graven image—the image of the beast, the spiritually unregenerated person of the flesh, of the dirt, of the earth, of stone. So how can we ever truly be free? How can the Imago Dei, the image of God, be released from the stone tomb that suffocates our spirit? 

Sepphoris, a village located in central Galilee very close to Nazareth, is populated with boulders. For this reason, among others, it is conjectured that Jesus, a tekton,1 was actually not a craftsman of wood, but of stone. As the Great Mason, Jesus attempts to chisel away at the stone of self, revealing our true identities, those made in the image of God. However, we continue to plaster the holes for fear of losing our false selves, our merry marionettes.

The holes, however, are good for us, for they are holes in a false visage concealing the holy image. We must be vulnerable and allow the Mason to do His work, for He is dismantling the dross to reveal the mirror. But we must first allow the rolling away of the stones from our eyes so that we can see Him for who He is. We are hiding in our tombs from God, blinded by boulders, and so we do not believe God to be good. In fact, we are terrified of Him, for we cannot behold His true image in our blindness.

We expect Him to reject us, for we cannot believe we are acceptable in our true state. And so we hide behind the idols we have erected—those cruel gods that demand sacrifice and attempt to reinforce the distance between us and them, our persons and our personas, splintering our psyche. However, Jesus comes to us and becomes one with us that we might become one with God. Instead of demanding sacrifice, He sacrifices Himself for our sake, and dies in the flesh that we might be reborn in the Spirit to experience true communion with the one true God, who is spirit, not stone. He waits for us to abandon the idol of self, the false god of the false lilies, and to allow Him to reveal our true image. 

We are not to be “freemasons,” building our own idols of self out of autonomy from God, but are to be freed by the Mason. Jesus waits patiently for us to invite Him to remove our masks, for they only conceal beauty. He wants us to understand that we are loved for who we are, with all our shortcomings and faults, as opposed to that which we pretend to be. It is the mask that is undesirable, not the face beneath. He wants to unmuzzle the meadowlark. In reality, everyone is most beautiful when she or he is most vulnerable. Are we willing to abandon our effigies and accept true beauty? Are we willing to accept our acceptance?

Jamin Casciato has spent years studying sustainable development throughout the non-industrialized world. He has taught economics in Mexico and Iraq, where he traveled extensively among the indigenous communities of the regions, studying local social traditions, music, and traditional medicine. He has also spent time among the nomadic communities of northern India and Egypt, and has done development research in Central America, Africa, and East Asia. He studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

[Photo Credit: Klearchos Kaputsis]