Do selfies, pictures we take of ourselves and post to social media, break the second commandment? The command may be found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Exodus 20:4-6(ESV) goes
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I have wrestled with this over the past few days for a few reasons. I originally planned to write from the position of “Selfies are not prohibited in the second commandment but they can become idols”. As I thought over this, however, I began to wonder how well I could actually defend that position and whether I should. It gave me pause to realize I don’t want to stop posting selfies so I do not want them to be in violation of a command of God. How much, I wondered, do these desires influence my opinion? If someone were to show me with scripture that it was wrong to post selfies, would I be willing to stop, or would I seek any reason to justify it so I can keep doing as I please?
But are all images actually wrong? God is consistent and shortly after giving the famous “Ten Commandments” actually commanded the crafting of cherubim (Exodus 26:1) and in Numbers 21 He commands a bronze serpent to be created by Moses (1). Under what category is the selfie? That depends on us. Every time we post to social media we glorify something. Before we post perhaps we should ask ourselves a few questions, such as what or who am I glorifying? Why am I posting this picture? Am I doing it for followers, likes, attention? Am I being honest in my answers?
As John Calvin so famously put it “The human heart is an idol factory”. How true those words are. We were created to worship and have a natural inclination to do so. But what are we worshiping? When the answer is anything other than the Eternal Creator of the universe and of us, that is idolatry. We can idolize ourselves on social media without even posting selfies. We can idolize ourselves without even having social media at all. If the intention is to bring us glory – though we often don’t believe that is our intention – to get more followers or for people to like us, we are elevating our sinful selves to a place we don’t belong. My pastor often uses the image of “Hopping on the throne of our own hearts”, which is a place not intended for us. We ought to understand that God should be the one sitting there. When we want to sit on the throne, we have to push the King off in order to do so. Imagine what an offense!
We are all guilty of idolatry at times. The question is: will I take action, will I get off the throne of my heart and allow one much wiser and greater than I to rule there? Let us examine ourselves. Not seeking to defend our idols because we aren’t wanting to give them up, but recognizing our idols when and where they appear. Let us be willing to cast them down and give glory and worship to the only One to whom it is due.
(1) It is worth noting that the bronze serpent later became the subject of idolatry in 2 Kings 18:4