Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Image of God

Sorry for the long delay in posting another blog. I have been working around the clock on a new book. One part of the book deals with ‘the image of God,’ which has a long and storied history of debate and discussion. For the most part in the West we have thought of the image of God in terms of the human mind, or our capacity for self-reflection and intellectual or rational thought. To be created in the image of God means that we are ‘rational’ creatures. Karl Barth, as he was want to do, opened a new world when he proposed that the image of God had more to do with being created male and female. Irenaeus, in the early Church, set forward a distinction between ‘the image’ and ‘the likeness’ of God, such that we were created in ‘the image of God,’ but were to grow into ‘the likeness of God.’ This distinction gives a real place for relationship and human personhood. The Greek Orthodox tradition has followed Irenaeus with considerable fruitfulness.

It would seem obvious that whatever it is that we believe about God will shape what we think about being created in God’s image. And here it gets interesting. Note this classic definition of God from the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection, all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.


While one could find biblical support for each of these ideas about God, this definition is shockingly abstract and non-relational. There is no mention of the love of God, or of the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, or of their communion together. It is, as T. F. Torrance says, ‘not essentially or distinctively Christian’ (The Mediation of Christ, p. 101). What would being created in the image of this non-relational deity look like?

In my study of John’s gospel, it has gradually dawned on me that whatever else ‘the image of God’ may mean, it surely involves being wired, as it were, relationally. If we start with the faceless, nameless omni-being, who watches us from the infinite distance of a largely judgmental heart, then our basic ideas of the imago dei will naturally follow suit. But, if with John, and the early Church, we start with the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, then to be created in the image of God means, at the very least, that we are designed to be relational, open, not closed or self-contained.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Greek preposition translated ‘with’ in John’s opening statement, ‘and the Word was with God,’ means far more than ‘with’ as we would use it today. We could say that we sat 'with' Heather on the train, but that only means that we were there, in the same place, side by side, with Heather. ‘With’ in John 1:1 means ‘turned towards, open to, face to face.’ So we are immediately thrown into the world of intimacy, fellowship, sharing, and communion. John ends his famous prologue by bringing us back to this foundational point, but this time with an even more intimate image when he speaks of the Son as being ‘in the bosom of the Father’ (v.18)

So John, in a deliberate play on the opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” fills in the notion of ‘God’ with intimate, face to face fellowship. This sets our thoughts on a relational trajectory from the beginning. For John, the very being of God involves love, sharing and fellowship. To be created in the image of this God is thus to be designed for personal interaction, intimacy, and communion. We were never made to be isolated, self-contained, vacuum sealed like a coffee can.

The implications of this foundational notion are incalculable. But let me make a few quick points. First, at the deepest level of our being we are open, not closed. Created in the image of the Trinity means that we were designed to receive the life of the Triune God, and to share this life with others. Second, being wired for relationship, we can never ‘find ourselves’ in isolation from others. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit exist alone. As fellowship lies at the heart of the being of God, so life and meaning for us comes in relationship. But, so does the greatest pain. Since we are made for relationship, there is nothing quite as traumatic as a broken one. There is profound pain in being alone, isolated, cut off from others, whether by our own mistakes, or by the vicissitudes of life. To feel rejected hurts like hell because it is a violation of our very being.

Like it or not, we live between the ‘rock’ of being wired for relationship and never finding fulfillment without them, and the ‘hard place’ of giving ourselves to be known and possibly being rejected. I would hazard a guess that most of us compromise by presenting what we think will be an ‘acceptable’ version of ourselves, thereby securing something of the life that comes in relationship, without running the risk of being known and thus opening ourselves to possibly experiencing the hell of personal rejection.

The fellowship of the blessed Trinity is not based upon their achieving good marks against an external standard, which stands above the Father, Son and Spirit, keeping constant vigil on their behavior. The communion of the Triune God is rooted in the freedom to love. For us to move from being created in ‘the image’ into ‘the likeness’ of the Triune God, (or to become what we are, and thus experience life) involves our accepting that we are broken people. In being honest with our own brokenness, we are opening ourselves to hear (within the dark world the lie) the truth that we are known and loved as we are. We always have been, and always will be. This is the world of the Triune God of love. Knowing that we are loved and accepted as we are opens us to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared for—intimacy, fellowship, communion, which leads to life and fulfillment.

Holy Spirit, help us to receive forgiveness, and take baby steps into the freedom of being known.

11 comments:

Boyd Allen said...

Thank you!
I immediately copied a direct link to this topic and sent it to my group.

Blessings and may we be known by the Father in a more intimate way and grow in the knowledge of the grace and love of the FSS.

Boyd

Ted Johnston said...

I look forward to your book on our creation in the image of God.

I'm reading a book by Tom Smail on the same topic: "Like Father, Like Son - The Trinity Imaged in our Humanity" (Eerdmans 2005). Smail explores the implications that we have been created in the image of the *triune* God. This has huge implications for understanding our humanity - and our relations to God, to one another, and to all creation.

Anonymous said...

I am reading a book called: THE IMAGE OF GOD IN THIS GENERATION: serving and worshiping and unchanging God.
What Adam, Eve and Jesus had in common is that they were all created without sin, and without the desire to sin.
Adam and Eve were flesh and blood, and God is spirit, so the image of God in man cannot be flesh and blood.
Adam and Eve ate from a tree to sustain their lives, God needed no such tree, and so the image could not be true immortality.
Jesus who was in the image of God was in everyway human: He got tired, He thirst, he bled, he had flesh and bone, the only difference between Jesus and us as humans: Jesus never sinned, nor desired to sin.
Read the book called: THE IMAGE OF GOD IN THIS GENERATION: serving and worshiping and unchanging God

Boyd Allen said...

Quoting: "“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

I like the emphasis and clarity of "with" as in "face to face".

Adding to that from 1 John 3:2 "....But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

John 17:3 "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

1 John 5:11 "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."

Seeing the Father, Son and Spirit for who the Triune really is, gives us the true image and likeness that gives us eternal life.

Boyd

Doug Floyd said...

Delightful post. I was thinking this morning about this fear of pain in relationship, and how we may not reject relationships outright, but we withdraw into a position where we feel safer. But this withdrawing (at least in my own life) has eventually resulted in some form of separation or closing in. And it seems this closing in on self and away from relation left unchecked is a disintegration, corruption and a living hell. Thank God for His is relentless pricking and stirring us into the fullness of His love.

Anonymous said...

In your audio series you say essentially that we struggle for a lifetime to receive the forgivenesss we already have. If I heard your tone correctly thereafter that in not receiving forgiveness we are effectively damning ourselves. Are you not underestimating the power of conditioning? My childhood of Catholicism and later of evangelicalism placed some heavy weights on my psyche, some never to be undone. Your most welcome theology easily breathes in, but I submit some minds cannot process it - Matthew 7:23.

Boyd Allen said...

I read a comment by someone on another blog post about dysfunctional churches, that "We are responsible for the communities' very souls."

I asked, "Are we?"

I explained to him that Jesus took on that responsibility and that we are to participate in his work. We need to put keep that responsibility in God's hands. The people are not fooled. They see a dysfunctional church trying to save them! What? You cannot save yourselves!

Now we are responsible to carry the good news to that community of what God has done already in their lives.

We try to be like Jesus when it comes to "saving souls" and frustrate ourselves. But that is not what we are called to do. We are to become like Jesus in trusting God to save souls.

The good news is, Dinner is ready, come and get it!!!

Boyd

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

I wanted to say that I resonated with what you wrote. I, too, feel that my mind and psyche has been crippled via religious conditioning.

I wanted to offer this, though.

First of all, forgiveness and its process, purpose, structure, flavour, etc... anything I'd ever heard of it was basically flawed at the core. Stemming from this is a sense of hopelessness that has outlasted my patience with the actual doctrines. It sits heavy and dark.

Something I've found to be fairly releasing though, was the question of, and answer to, 'What (if anything) needs forgiving?' I admit, this is SO, SO 'basic' a train of thought, but it has been more than enough for my mind to process at this time.

The answer that finds a place in my soul has been the Father forgiving my 'unbelief', (with 'unbelief' being in regards to the fact he loves/accepts me and all that).
I figure, if Jesus is in me, and I'm in him, and he is forever rushing into his father's arms, then I am taken with him into that embrace. This includes the parts within my Self that I couldn't (can't) conceive of being so forward, open or simply ABLE to even consider the embrace exists. (They are THAT broken).

In this way of thinking, my mind/psyche can chill out for a bit while my soul/heart learn the initial ways of forgiveness -- it's about who Jesus is and what (through him) I'm gathered up into (mind and psyche INCLUDED!?!).

As my deep inner self encounters love and safety and RESPONDS (!!!!), I am very, very slowly finding that I am willing to think that over time, my mental and psychological brokenness may (just may) have a chance at either being healed or entirely renewed (as promised somewhere in the bible?!).

This may be VERY basic of me ...I don't mean to insult or underestimate you and your experience.

~Amy

"Why show me all this if I know no hope?" ~Dickens.

Boyd Allen said...

Amy, by cracky, I think you got it!

It is broken! Our unbelief is what got Israel into so much trouble!

Hebrews 3:18-19 NIV "And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief."

Notice how "disobeyed" was in connection with "unbelief".

Now that doesn't mean if we have trouble believing that we will not enter, but because Jesus brought us to himself, we, by HIS belief, are saved and have entered into HIS rest.

We can now rest from our struggles to believe by just believing what God has already done, in spite of our belief, or lack of.

It did NOT take our belief for Jesus to come into humanity. It did NOT take our belief for Jesus to carry out his ministry. It did NOT take our belief for Jesus to carry the cross, or to suffer and die on the cross. It did NOT take our belief for Jesus to say "forgive them..." It did NOT take our belief for Jesus to be resurrected. and so on.

None of the things Jesus did from the time he created the cosmos, to his ascension from humanity, took our belief.

Think about it!

Boyd

Mike Cheek said...

Dr. Kruger,

Picking up on your comments on the relational dimension of the gospel of John: Yesterday (9/22) I just happened to pick Balthasar's "Prayer" and browsing through it came upon this comment about John: "In all its major scenes we are shown the breakthrough from contemplation ... to adoration, at the point where truth suddenly moves toward the person contemplating and overwhelms him, not from outside but from inside, since Truth is a Person." I think this dovetails in with what you're saying. - Mike Cheek

VOCÊ ESTÁ INCLUIDO said...

Thank you!

For giving us these wonderful messages!
I am beggining to learn the real trinitarian theology, thanks to your blog.

Rod (Brazil)





Rod (Brazil)