Tearing Up Pictures of Themselves


This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcribed and Edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

The first cut
wasn’t the deepest.
No, not at all.
It was like the others,
a subtle rend of anxious skin,
a gentle pulse of crimson,
just enough to hush the demons
shrieking inside my brain.
(Ellen Hopkins, “Impulse”)[1]

This was written by one [person], and a woman who read this writes:

[I’ve] never done this even though [I] know the feeling of needing the release of all the pain from an unbelievable abusive and criminal situation.

[W]illiam cut. [A]nd [I] told him [I] understand why, but it [wan’t] the answer.

[I] mainly tore up pictures of myself and my artwork [I] spent hours on making.. [I] made myself hideous so how [I] felt inside [because] of all the terror and abuse done to me would match the outside..[2]

Why does this first person cut [herself]? Why does this woman tear up pictures of herself and tear up artwork that she had spent so much time making?

Another woman writes about her struggles with being overweight. She says:

I always kept my weight log book hidden in the bottom of my drawer so no one would see how big I had actually gotten (like looking at me wasn’t a dead give away…lol denial…). It took me almost 2 years before I could admit my starting weight, and say the word “obese”. Yet, now I show the world my pictures of the before me whenever asked…[It] was difficult to actually find any before’s [sic] as I routinely tore up pictures of myself….[The] person I am today is someone I never thought I could be…[2]

Why did this woman tear up pictures of herself?

One sexual abuse victim writes:

I have hated myself for years! I tear up pictures of myself. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. If I accidentally do see myself in the mirror…I have panic attacks. I am working on it through a 12-step recovery program and through therapy with a counselor. It is slow going, but it has helped. I still suffer from intense self-loathing. I still have moments of crying every day. But, those moments don’t last all day anymore, and I have started to get my sense of humor back. I can look at myself in the mirror sometimes and not see ugly. It is a process. But, I recommend what everyone else is saying…Get some therapy and find a 12-step group. It really does help to find other people who have gone through the same things.[3]

Why does this woman tear up pictures of herself?

Here’s another thought: Think of somebody that you love. Think of somebody you care about very deeply – maybe your mother, your father, your spouse, one of your precious children. And somebody gets a picture of that person, a photograph, and right in front of you, while you are watching, they take that picture, and just tear it right down the middle of the face.

Christa, imagine that somebody stands right in front of you with a picture of your precious boy, Landon, and just tears that picture of Landon in half. Jenny, Al: Imagine that someone gets a picture of your three children – Joel, Becca, and Xander – and they just rip it to shreds right in front of you. Do I even need to ask how that would make you feel? Would you just say, “Ah, that’s no big deal. It’s just paper and ink. No big deal! Doesn’t bother me.” Or would that bother you a lot?

John, what if somebody took a picture of your mom, Betty, and just ripped that picture into pieces right in front of your eyes?

<John> I might have to hurt them.

<Dn. Joseph, laughing> Might have to hurt them!

I think we all understand this, intuitively. We recognize that this is not just paper and ink anymore. This is a big deal. We all intuitively understand that there is a deep, almost mystical connection between the image and the original, between the picture and the person. We know that how somebody thinks about and how somebody treats a photo of your family is very, very similar to how they think about and how they want to treat your family. 

Nobody who loves your child or loves you is going to rip up a picture of your children in front of you. Nobody who cares about you, nobody who loves you, nobody who loves your mom is going to tear up a picture of your mom in front of you.

Why do we universally have such powerful feelings when it comes to these images, these pictures of our loved ones? Why does this cut to our heart when we think of these types of things?

For the people that we heard from at the very beginning, when they’re tearing up pictures of themselves – why does that go hand-in-hand with this self-hatred, this self-loathing, this feeling of unworthiness, this feeling of worthlessness?

Why is there such a strong connection between the picture and the person?

Well, Jesus understood this principle. Jesus understood this principle very intimately. In today’s Gospel reading, we see the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus. They asked Jesus, “Should we pay taxes unto Caesar?” Now, here’s how they were trying to trick Him: They figured, “Whether He says yes or no, we’ve got Him, because if He says yes, then we’re going to say that he is a friend of Caesar. And since Caesar is Rome, and Rome is persecuting and oppressing the Jews, we can turn Jews against Him.” See, Jesus was very popular with the Jews at this time. He had a lot of people following Him and listening to Him intently. So they thought, “Well, if Jesus sides with Rome, then we can turn the Jews against Him. But if Jesus says, ‘No, you should not pay taxes to Caesar,” then we’ve got Him, because then we can go to Rome and say [that] he is inciting a rebellion against the throne. He is inciting a rebellion against the empire, and Rome itself will come and will put Him to death.”

But Jesus cannot be tricked. He is God! Jesus is God incarnate. He knew what they were trying to pull.

Now, many of us today – we’re good citizens. We pay our taxes, but we would not give the same type of reasoning that Jesus did. We would try to come up with a reason why, “Well, to be a good citizen, here’s how you should contribute to society;” or, “To be a good Christian, here’s what you need to do to set an example for others so that they listen to what you have to say.” Jesus didn’t use any of those arguments. He bypassed all of them. Jesus gave no political discourse whatsoever, at least in regard to the justification for paying taxes. He didn’t get onto some political argument. He didn’t give an argument for an example saying, “You’ll set a good example if you do this;” or, “You’ll be contributing to society if you do this.”

Jesus went directly to the face of Caesar on the money. Jesus said that there is logical connection between whose image is printed on the money and who has power over that money, who has influence over it, who has the right to demand taxes. He didn’t use a political discourse. He didn’t use a political argument. All Jesus said is: “Whose picture is on the money?”
They said, “Caesar’s.”
And then he says, “Therefore. . . ”

In other words, that picture there, that’s the reason – that is the reason. Caesar’s picture is on the money. “Therefore, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” [Matthew 22:21]. That’s all the argument you need.

Now, things are just slightly different in America today. We don’t put the current president’s face on money, but we do put American presidents and American leaders on our money. George Washington [was the] first president of the United States. He’s on the one dollar bill. [Abraham] Lincoln is on the five [dollar bill]. A great leader in the early Washington administration was Alexander Hamilton. He’s on the ten. Another U. S. president, [Ulysses S.] Grant [is] on the fifty. If we look at our money, if we look at our coins, we see pictures of U. S. presidents. These are the faces of the U. S. government spread out through time. So, I think Jesus would tell us the same today. Render unto the U. S. government the things that belong to the U. S. Government. They printed the money. They put their own pictures fon the money. Guess what? It’s theirs.

Who owns your money? Jesus doesn’t give any kind of political discourse saying, “Here’s how much of your money you ought to give to help your fellow man and blah blah blah.” He just says, “Whose picture is on the money? Whose image is there? That will tell you who owns it and has a right to demand access.”

So does the government have the right to tax you and you pay that tax? Yes. Because their pictures are on the money. That’s the reason Jesus gives.

“Well, but what if it’s an ungodly administration? What if they use the tax dollars for evil things?”
Well, who was Caesar? Look at the Caesars during the time that Christ was alive and during the first century Church when the Apostles were alive. We have emperors who put good men to death. We have emperors who lived filthy, godless lifestyles. We have emperors who demanded to be worshiped as god.

You know that phrase that we use as Christians, “Jesus is Lord?” That was a very political statement. It was a knockoff of a political statement that had already been around for years. You see, in the first century, if you lived in the Roman Empire, there was a saying in Greek: [καίσαρα είναι κύριο (transliterated, “kaisera ina kurio“], “Caesar is lord.”

When they took that phrase, you notice they didn’t say “we serve Jesus” as their slogan or “we follow Christ” as our slogan. This saying that they picked out, that they repeat in Scripture, is “Jesus is Lord.” That would be like if we took the phrase “in God we trust” and switched it around to “in the U. S. government we trust.” That would be going the other direction, taking a phrase that uses God, taking God out of it, and putting somebody else in there.

It made me sick. I was actually at one person’s funeral, and they actually had no Scripture, no Christian anything in the funeral, but up on the fridge they had a picture of the guy who had died, and under it they wrote, “In Dave we trust.” That kind of gave me the willies. [If it had] said, “I love Dad” or “Dave is great,” that wouldn’t have made me think anything. But when they said, “In Dave we trust,” they were taking God out of that saying and putting him in.

That’s the same thing in the other direction that the Christians did in the first century. They took this phrase that was used in society, “In Caesar we trust,” and they took out Caesar, and they put Jesus there. They’re saying, “Jesus is the real emperor. He’s the one that’s really in charge. Jesus is the one who really is Lord.”

Because of this conviction, because of this declaration, Christians were put to death. Christians were hated by the state, because Christians were saying, “Jesus is Lord, not the state. Jesus is Lord, not the government.”

So, it matters when you take a phrase, and you change something in it like that. It really makes a difference.

With the money, Jesus was saying, “Look at whose picture is on it. Look at whose image is on the money. Whoever that is, yep, they have ownership, and you have to pay taxes.” But then He goes on, and He says one more thing. He didn’t just say, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” He goes on to say, “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”

Now, how did He determine what things needed to be rendered unto Caesar? By seeing where Caesar’s image was imprinted. He found Caesar’s image imprinted on the money, and he said, “Oh! That’s Caesar’s money. You’ve got to pay taxes to him.”

But you see, in that day, Caesar didn’t just claim to have ownership of the money. He claimed to have ownership over everybody, over all things, over man, woman, child, over your very life. That’s why he said “καίσαρα είναι κύριο,” Caesar is Lord.

So Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. His picture is on the money. Let him have it. But render unto God the things that are God’s.” Let me ask you this: Where is the image of God imprinted? Not on money. On us!

So sure, that funny money, that paper money, that metal stuff, let the government have it. They’ve got their pictures on it. But the image of God is imprinted on you, and you, and your kids, and your parents, and your spouse, and on me.

“And render unto God the things that are God’s.” See, The Christians changed “Caesar is lord” to “Jesus is Lord.” Here, Jesus is pointing at the same thing. He’s saying, “Okay, fine. Caesar can have that money, that stuff that’s not going to last forever. But the image of God is imprinted on all the people in the kingdom. Guess who else the image of God is imprinted on. Caesar himself!”

So, we could say, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” but even Caesar has the image of God on him, so render Caesar unto God. Render yourself unto God. Render your children unto God. If Caesar wants to be lord of the money, fine. God is the Lord of Caesar.

Now, we should take this very seriously. Jesus is saying that the image of somebody being stamped on something is such a powerful argument by itself that that alone is enough of a reason to dictate what you do with your money. Is this just a sideline issue for most of us, what you do with your money, or is that a central, big issue, and important issue? That’s a big question in our lives.

We complain about the divorce rate in America being over 50%. Did you know that the number one reasons given for marital conflict is arguing over money? Sex is number two. That’s down the list. Number one is money. People argue over money, and they get divorced over it. They rip families apart because of it. Children end up in split, broken homes because of it. Money is a big thing.

There are a lot of church leaders who do not fall because of sexual immorality, but they fall because of embezzlement, stealing money, misappropriation of funds. This is no side issue. This is  central part of our life on this planet right now. Jesus says that [in] this central part of our life, this big thing that we deal with, that it matters who has their face printed on the money, who has their image printed on it. If Caesar has his image printed on the money, then you’ve got to pay taxes to Caesar. If the leaders of the United States government – they put their pictures all over the money, they print the money, then guess what. We need to pay taxes to the United States government whether we like it or not. Their image is on the money.

But if that changes what we do with our money, if that orders what we do with our money, then how much more does the image of God being imprinted on us dictate what we should do with ourselves and with our children? How many people are more concerned with what they do with their checkbook than they are with about how their children are educated?

Say that that there is a school where you can send your child to, whether it is a local public school or whether it is a big, respected university and your child is 18 years old and ready to go off to college. You know that at this university, there are many professors that are godless, that are teaching things which are contrary to the Christian faith, and you say, “Go ahead and go there anyway. No big deal. I’m just going to let you learn from whoever. I’m not going to obey what that says in Deuteronomy 6, where it says, ‘You teach your children when you rise up and when you go to sleep, when you go out and when you come in by the way.’ I know it teaches me to teach my children, but I don’t have the time. I’d rather spend my time doing other things. I don’t have the money. I’d rather spend my money to do other things – get a second car, get a bigger house. My children, eh, I mean, I’ll take them to church on Sundays. I’ll do that much. I’ll make sure they’re in some youth group, and hopefully that one hour once a week in that youth group will give them all the Christianity that they need. But Monday through Saturday, six days a week, I’m going to let pagans teach my kids. I’m going to let the godless train my children.”

You see, the image of God is imprinted on your children, not the image of Caesar. And when you give your children up to ungodly teachings like that, to ungodly teachers, you are rendering unto Caesar the things which belong to God.

Now, we are supposed to obey our government. We are supposed to pay taxes. Jesus said so. That’s an important thing. But it’s still a temporal thing, a temporary thing. Whether we pay our taxes or not, a few centuries hence, this world as we know it will be no more. We’ll be in the new heavens and the new earth. We’ll be on the other side of the resurrection. How you filled out your 1040 centuries in the past won’t matter a whole lot at that point. Yet, even there, Jesus says, “their image is printed on the money, so you pay the taxes to them.”

But guess what. How you raise your children is going to affect them for all eternity. See, 700 years from now, it won’t matter how you filled out your income tax form. It will matter infinitely whether you taught your children righteousness from the morning til the evening, when you went out and when you came back home, or whether you just gave them up to be educated by Caesar, gave them up to be educated by godless people in universities that don’t care anything about Christ.

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” His picture [is there]. Pay him the money. “But render unto God the things that are God’s:” Your spouse, your children, your parents, yourself. Give yourself entirely to God. Don’t give yourself over to the world. Don’t give yourself over to Caesar. Give yourself to Christ entirely, because His image is imprinted on your soul from the time of your soul’s very creation.

So, according to Jesus, it matters infinitely, it matters very much whose image is stamped on money, whose image is stamped on the person.

When we go back to those first sad women that we were reading, when they were tearing up their own pictures, what were they saying by doing that? What were they showing us? One of them even said it: “I hate myself. I have self-loathing. Whenever I look in the mirror, I see ugly.”

It’s bad enough to tear up your own picture, but how shall we escape the guilt if we tear up our own children the same way that those women were tearing up those pictures?

On another note, if we look at certain doctrines that some of us have come away from, as we have converted to Orthodoxy . . . Some of us, in our past were Calvinists. What did we believe about God at that time? We believed that God had this one group of people that He loved from eternity past and predestined to heaven, and we convinced ourselves that we had to be part of that group. Then [there is] this other group over here that God, from eternity past, chose to go to hell. He made sure that they were born in sin. He made sure that He never redeemed them from that sin, and they never repented, because He looked forward to the day that He could torture them for all eternity in hell, and destroy them, and cause them immense suffering forever so that He could show His own glory and His own power.

But if that was true, if that’s really what God did, think about the implications! If that was God’s intention, if that was why hell exists, if that’s why people went to hell, then would not God be tearing up pictures of Himself? If He created all these people in the image of God just so he could send them to hell, wouldn’t God be like those people that we read about in the very beginning of the sermon? God would be self-loathing. God would be self-loathing, self-hating, down on Himself. He would be tearing up pictures of Himself, tearing up images of Himself for all eternity.

So when you believe in a God like that, there are implications into what sort of psychology you are attributing to God. You are basically implying that God hates Himself, that God thinks that He’s ugly, or God doesn’t treasure every image of Himself that He has created. Thank God that’s not who God is! Thank God that’s not true. Thank God that He has been patient enough with us so that we ourselves can repent of having ever believed that kind of drivel.

But if that’s not true, if God doesn’t hate His image, if God doesn’t think of Himself as ugly, and if God knows that He Himself is beautiful, that He Himself is glorious, that He Himself is lovely, then how is He going to treat every image of Himself that exists? He’s going to treat it with care. He’s going to treat it with love. He’s going to treat it with respect.

And that’s just what He does. Every man, woman, and child in this world, as a priest friend of mine says: “God loves you, and God is not mad at you.” Do you know why? Because you are created in His image. God’s got a picture of you up on His wall. He’s got a picture of you on His refrigerator. He’s got a picture of you in His billfold.

You yourself are stamped with the image of God. 

So never get down on yourself and imagine that God has put you over in some category where He is rubbing His hands just waiting to destroy you. For God to do that, He would be tearing up pictures of Himself. God Himself would have a mental problem. God Himself would be a psychopath that would be on the way to needing some assistance in a mental ward somewhere.

But if you do not think that we serve a God who has psychological issues, if you believe that our God loves every image of Himself that He’s created, then that includes you. That includes you! Yes, that includes you. God loves you. He cares about you. If one of His images gets dirty, He doesn’t tear it up. No, He gently and carefully gives that image the same type of tenderness, and love, and respect, and gentleness that He gives Himself, because this is an image of Him. He gets water, and He gently washes it and is careful not to damage the paper, and careful not to damage the ink, and He cleans it off until it looks just like Him. He’s gotten all the dirt off. That’s what he’s doing with us in this life. He’s purifying us. He’s washing the dirt off. He’s cleansing all of that away, so that, when He looks at it, He sees Himself. That’s theosis.

Theosis is what happens when we finally reach that point, by the grace of God, that a person can look at God and look at you and do a double-take. We are created in the image of God. You are created in the image of God. God loves and cherishes every image of Himself that He has created.

If what we do with even lowly money is to be dictated by where the image is, then the same goes for us. Sure, that funny money – you can render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But yourself? Your spouse? Your parents? Your children? You had better render unto God the things that are God’s. Amen?

Lord God, we thank you for creating us in Your image. We thank you for gently cleansing us of any filth, of any dirt, of anything that covers up that image. We pray that You would cleanse our hearts, forgive us of our sins, conform us to the image of Christ that the day may come when we ourselves are images completely purified, completely cleansed, that fully reflect the face of Christ. 

We pray this in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Notes and References

[1] Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse. New York: Margaret E. McElderry Books, 2007.

[2] This quotation came from an online forum in November, 2012. The original transcription work, by another provider as of November 20, 2012 did not cite the sources for the quotations, though they were quoted by her at that time directly from the forum postings with evident spelling and punctuation from the original forum postings. The only edits made from the original quotation as found in the incomplete original text are to spelling and capitalization.

From November 20, 2012 until May 14, 2016, the time of this transcription, the original forum has been lost, and is unable to be accessed. No current citation for this quotation is available of which the editor is aware.

[3] “Sexual Abuse Support Group.” Sexual Abuse General Discussions at DailyStrength: If You Felt Negative about Yourself. October 29, 2011. http://www.dailystrength.org/c/Sexual_Abuse/forum/13096579-if-you-felt-negative. Quotation is from “Reply #3” by user “Pippilotta”


This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcribed and Edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.  Dormition Text Services offers full service secretarial support, including sermon transcription and editing services to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Holy Images, Icons, Orthodox Homilies, The Orthodox Christian Family. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tearing Up Pictures of Themselves

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. I have spoken and listened to quite a few women that cut themselves. They were abuse victims and had learned that the cutting and blood released pain and brought a High that was a addiction. This is what I have learned from them.

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