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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: The enduring power of an image

Another Angle.The enduring power of an image was first published 4 June 2006 in the Hart County News-Herald.
To see other articles by this author, enter "Rev. Joey N. Welsh," or "Another Angle," in the searchbox. The next earlier Another Angle: Ebenezers for our age

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

Any quick perusal of the Bible shows that the very word image is a powerful and important thing, a vital biblical concept from the beginning to the end of the scriptures. In Genesis 1:26 we read that God, as part of the unfolding of creation, intended to make human beings, "... in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

God created us, both male and female, in his image

And thus God did precisely that, we are told, creating us in the image of God, both male and female. (v. 27) This idea of the divine image we all bear is the distinguishing scriptural hallmark uniting all human beings, and it is a very good thing.

Later in the Old Testament the concept of image remains powerful, though now forcefully, broodingly bad. In the Old Testament books of law and history, the emphasis of image is on the dangers of making idols and graven images for worship. Clearly, in the ancient thought of the Hebrews, it was enough that people bore the image of God. Creating an artificial, lifeless image of God was a dangerous thing and a transgression of the second commandment.

Prophets were tough on worshippers of idols and false images

Hebrew judges and prophets were on alert about the dangers of unholy images. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were particularly tough on the worshippers of idols and false images: "But those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame." (Isaiah 42:17); "Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them" (Jeremiah 10:14, a declaration repeated later in chapter 51)

In New Testament literature there are some positive uses of the concept of image. Paul, in his letters to the Corinthians and the letter to the Colossians, refers to Jesus as the very image of God on earth: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (Colossians 1:15) At the close of the New Testament, though, Revelation uses the word with foreboding. Most of the many uses of the word there cite those who bow before the image of the beast.

Images can reference both very good and exceedingly evil

In biblical terms, image can reference both the very good and the exceedingly evil. The images we have encountered in recent history are much the same. Images of the smoking ruin of the Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor told a previous generation all it needed to know about the coming of a world war. In a later generation the image of a burned child running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam brought home to many people the pain of that conflict.

Still later, images of a tiny, aged, and wrinkled Mother Theresa at work in the poverty of Calcutta reminded us that sometimes inspired people can be at their very best when circumstances are at their very worst. And, in this new century, the image of the Statue of Liberty against a background of smoke on September 11, 2001, told us how much the world had suddenly changed for us on that day.

June 4 marks anniversary of another striking image

June 4, marks the anniversary of another striking image, one of human resistance in the face of abject evil. 21 years ago in 1989, Chinese military forces surrounded Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Pro-democracy demonstrators had thronged there, and their numbers had been growing for weeks. In the dark early morning hours tanks and troops closed in on the square and surrounding streets, opening fire on the demonstrators. Hundreds of students and workers were killed; thousands were wounded.

As day broke and soldiers were dispersing the few remaining people and clearing away bodies, Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener made his way to the roof of a hotel. He focused down on the square and captured the stirring image of a column of tanks brought to a standstill by one young man. He wouldn't budge from in front of the tanks, and the tanks would not proceed. This image of defiance made it out to the rest of the world because Widener, afraid his film would be confiscated from him, passed it along to another journalist (who smuggled it out of China in his underwear).

Ultimately, the young man was dragged away from the front of the tanks by some friends or bystanders. We do not know the young man's name. We do not even know whether he lived through the day. What we do know is that he contributed to the world an image of courage that still lives.

World didn't take image of lone protestor to heart

Evidently, the world didn't take this image to heart for very long. China is, after all, a developing dynamo on the world economic scene, and no countries have blocked its way toward commercial dominance in anything like the way that one man stood before those tanks. Who wants to get in the way of big bucks? The selection of Beijing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics was trumpeted by China's government as a sort of blessing and approval by the rest of the world. This same government has never fully acknowledged the toll of injured and dead on that day in 1989. Yet, the image of one young man in front of the tanks has not dimmed.

Images can be forceful for good or for ill

Yes, images can be forceful for good or for ill. The Bible tells us so. On June 4 I salute that lone man and the spirit of boldness he ever represents. The image of his bravery on that morning of carnage is ageless and unfading. I hope his witness for freedom and his impulse for democracy will someday flourish in that land, even absent the encouragement of the world's other nations. Blessings on that young man -- and shame on the rest of us.

E-mail: joey_n_welsh@hotmail.comJeff Widener's image of one young man in front of the tanks is in the sixth row at:

This story was posted on 2010-06-06 09:25:27
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