Monday, May 28, 2007

Imago Dei

The Bible says that we humans are made in the image of God.

"The image of God? But we're not strong like bears or graceful like deer. We can't fly or swim more than a few hundred meters at most. We can't even run as fast as the hippo! We're a rather pathetic reflection of what the image of God should look like."

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? The word image implies a reflection of something, that something being the original. To be made 'in the image of' logically requires a starting point, something or someone external, not of or in ourselves, on the 'other' side, that we are meant to reflect.

Whilst studying for a theology exam, a scene came to mind to describe just how evil humanity is to have turned away from God. Humour me on this. Analogies are seldom perfect. Imagine a mirror. Imagine looking in and seeing your image. Your image is a reflection of you and looks like you and bears similar qualities that you have. Yet the image does not have all the qualities or depth or substance that you, the original have. Assuming your image can think independantly, it still cannot know what it is like to be outside the space within the mirror. Your image can neither know things you know nor feel the way you do nor experience life the way you do. Furthermore, it can never know, feel or understand what you know (unless you somehow tell it) because it is limited in time and space and ability. It exists only in the framework of the reflected space.

In the same way, although not exactly, we are created in the image of God. We 'look' like God because certain God-like qualities have been imprinted on us. The way we are relational for example, the way we 'rule' creation, the roles we have in society, even the way we think to a certain extent, are all reflections of a infinitely perfect being. However, we have the ability to sin but God does not for if God were to be able to lie, it would render Him no longer God. Does this mean we posess something God does not? Does it mean we have one-uped God? No, it does not. Sin is not an added capability we have that puts us above God - I can do this and you can't - rather, it is an innate defect that God does not have and can never have.

Going back to the mirror analogy, imagine your reflection staring back at you and then doing things in the mirror you are not doing. If you are standing still, what will you make of your image waving his or her arms about? Imagine the image then glaring back at you and shouting rude things at you. Imagine the image then assuming your identity. He turns his back on you, struts about in front of you and does his own thing in the context of the scope available within the mirror. He thinks the area reflected is all there is of the world and he defies you as the original. In fact, he lives his life telling everyone around him (if you can imagine other people around him) that he is the original. That he is free to live his own way because there is no one who controls him other than himself. And these other people all nod but secretly they harbour the exact same attitude; that I live for myself. That I do not have a maker to answer to. That I am a god in my own right. None of them turn to see the maker of the image looking into the mirror. It is a scary thought to imagine my reflecton doing that. It resembles something that should be in a horror film, not real life but it is here, around us, everywhere. And as horror films go, it is not just scary, it is unnatural, wrong and evil. People defy God as the Creator and defy that we are made in His image. In fact they twist it so it is the other way around. Some try fit God into a box as if the Creator has a scope equivalent or less to ours when His universe is infinitely more, His perspective infinitely layered, His power infinitely greater than the mirrored world we live in. They say, "Oh yes I believe in God" but what they actually mean is, "God is an idea that I don't really want to know about." Others deny His existance outright.

We were made for a relationship with God. By nature we are sinful, an inheritance from Adam but we were not created to be sinful. Sin stained/stains everything so much so that left to our own devices, even freewill is not a choice between good and evil but a choice between evil and evil. Only the Creator, from His eternal point of view, can provide a way of this hopeless mess and He has, through Jesus Christ to unite us in a perfect relationship with Him. Unless we admit the Creator as Creator, who owns us, to whom we owe our existance, we live in rebellion like the distorted, despised and wretched image in the mirror who assumes a worth and title he does not actually have. But how can we admit a Creator when we by nature are blinded and presume that deceit, malice and falsehood are what is true and right? Only God can rescue and enlighten us because only God is not corrupted by the stench of evil that the world wallows in.

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