Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Imago Dei: Strand Three

(According to the hit-stats on my posts, calling myself a tree-hugger is much more interesting than calling you God’s idol.)

As a human made to represent God to the entire cosmos, you bear aspects of his character and attributes; you are responsible for the earth, the sea, and everything in them; and you are created to exist in community.

Community—that all-to-popular Christian buzzword—is not the ‘what kind’ of image (character), nor is it the ‘occupation’ of image (responsibility), but it is the ‘how’ of the image, or the ‘where’ of the image, or any number of dialectical terms with their own emphases: mode, accident, circumstance. Regardless of which you prefer (I’ll be using how and mode), Scripture is clear that the context of imago Dei is communal. We’re going to work backwards for this one: from man toward God.

Man: Genesis 1
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them”
(Gn.1.26, ESV)

Notice that created humanity is listed as imago Dei collectively. That is to say that creating in the image of God nearly necessitates multiplicity/plurality. The last clause “male and female he created them” seems to be apposite (parallel-explanatory) of the former “he created him.” There is further evidence in God’s intent (v.26) when God expresses his plan to create: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…”

In fact, the spousal (communal) aspect of Genesis 1 is so important that the Holy Spirit, guiding Moses, writes an entire discourse on their creation particularly (Genesis 2). In this account, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Seems pretty blatantly community-driven. God proceeds to bring all the animals to Adam to name. This would imply that although community is the mode of imago Dei, being solitary does not reduce you to being something less since Adam can still exercise kindly-occupation/character-responsibility. Nonetheless, it is not good for man to be alone and without human counterpart. God purposed to build community, causing Adam to sleep and forming woman. The conclusion of the chapter extols the blessing of marriage and the honor of severing one social-dimension (heritage) for another (covenant).

It is to this pair of humans imago Dei that our God tells to build larger communities: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Man: Genesis 5

What do man and woman do? They follow God’s instruction and build a community. Genesis 5 is the account of their ‘fruit.’ A genealogy in itself means that more humans have existed, and when humans exist, there is need of their birth (family community) and need of their marriage/sexual union (marital community).

Man: Genesis 9

God blesses Noah after the flood and reiterates the command for community building: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But God continues further and explains that man must exist in right relationship with one another upon threat of judgment:

“And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow and I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it (Gen.9.5-7).

As if man didn’t understand that they were intended to bear children. But these children are not simply children for bodies’ sake. “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you’” (Gen.9.9). (Note: this covenant is also given to the animals.) So man and woman are intended not just for children but for the promulgation of covenantal living: humans under the decrees of God with equal responsibility for encouraging ethical cohabitation upon planet earth.

Man: James 3
The brother of Jesus simply assumes communal-living. As we all do. And when we come into contact with other humans, we tend to communicate with words. James convicts us by explaining that even if we praise God with our lips, the same lips curse those like him—denying proper covenantal living. In fact, one of James’ themes is precisely that you cannot claim to love the invisible God when his visible representatives you hate.

We exist in community, and in community our image-ness finds expression in faithfulness or rebellion. How do you most concretely show the character of God? By living rightly with others.


So how does man living in community express who God is? Couldn’t these claims simply be explained by God creating multiple humans? Except that God exists in Trinity. This understanding of God is more prevalent in the New Testament, but is by no means absent in Genesis:

Let us make man in our image after our likeness. (Genesis 1)

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 1)

With it [the mouth] we bless our Lord and Father. (James)

Of the three, only the second is really controversial, and yet the wind/breath/spirit word in Hebrew and Greek can play double-entendre to express a subsurface concept. The quote from James lists “Lord” which is most often accorded to the Jesus and the term “Father” which is almost exclusively attributed to the first person of the Godhead.

If God is Trinity, he has existed in Trinity eternally. If God’s Triune being is essential to his nature as Yahweh, then what better way to represent this eternal creator-king than in community—as he has been eternally? This is also why we must interact appropriately with other humans. Our communities should mirror the intratrinitarian community: perfect and flawless selfless-selfish glorifying love.

As God’s idol, you show forth God’s character by caretaking the earth alongside your brothers in unified love.

Imago Christi

Dignity and Depravity

Monday, January 13, 2014

Imago Dei: Strand Two

We last discussed that being made in the image of God entails reflecting his character. However, it should be noted that although this is the most commonly assumed position on imago Dei, it is the least contextually apparent. If you approach Genesis 1, 5, 9, James 3, and even Psalm 8, Romans 1, Hebrews 2, and any other passage which pertains more directly to imago Dei, you will be hard pressed to find a reason to believe that the characteristics of God transfer to humanity at all! The vast chasm between creator and creation would even beg otherwise! To make matters worse… finding the image of God by determining what is human and not animal is faulty. Sure humans can talk, but did you know that dolphins and orca can communicate; orangutans have learned sign language, and even though they struggle with grammar, they can name items and actions. Yes, humans can rationalize and problem-solve, but so can predators, luring prey to consume them; what about the dogs in your backyard: have they never learned the ways to escape? Emotion? Again look to those pups. Volition? Passion? Decisions and desire? Perhaps animals don’t have ambition the way that humans do: they don’t set major and minor goals, use things as temporary means to ends, etc. But you forget that animals and humans are not the only created beings: angels and demons have volition. And although it is not stated that angels are not created in the image of God, neither is it stated that they are. So these qualities are not unique to man.

But I won’t go so far as to say they are impertinent constituents of the image of God.

What, though, can we be certain about in imago Dei?

Being Created Imago Dei Endows You with Unprecedented Responsibility

Sovereignty, in  a lesser sense—or ‘responsibility’ may be more the more comfortable term.

What follows immediately after God creates man and woman?

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that that moves on the earth. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit You shall have them for food’” (Gen.1.28-29, ESV, emphasis mine).

And what was God’s intent alongside the creation of man?

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gn.1.26, ESV, emphasis mine).

At least in the original creation passage, it seems pretty obvious that God has an intent for man and woman to be over everything on the created earth. But not just here, when image of God is alluded to later in Psalm 8, David sings

“You…crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas”
(Psalm 8.5b-8, ESV).

No one else in all creation is endowed with this sort of responsibility and privilege. God, the Creator-King who sits enthroned over his creation seats humanity on vassal-thrones to execute his desire for the created order: man is instructed to till the garden and subdue the earth. Man (in Genesis 2) exercises the right to name animals thus denoting authority over them.

Thanks, Uncle Ben

“With great power comes great responsibility,” advises Uncle Ben in Spiderman. And we would do well to take heed. The authority we have been given is not to be taken lightly, and we are already off to a bad start—Romans 8 reveals that by our indiscretion, those things beneath us became chained to futility. We are responsible for their condemnation.

You don’t have to adore animals, but you do have to behave appropriately toward them and treat them as God’s good, created order. I have a very good friend who is in pest control—who daily exercises his right as God’s divine image bearer: determining the life and death of ‘every creeping thing on the ground.’ He does so with God’s approval and pleasure for these creatures, though created good and not arbitrarily, for which account of blood must be reckoned (Gen.9), are foregoing their man-sanctioned habitat: dwelling where their ruler does not wish them to be. These pests have forsaken their God-ordained authority by lawless rebellion. Sin? No. But improper living nonetheless, and Marc represents God to all the created order when he walks upon the earth exercising sovereign authority over them.

I have a couple other friends who somehow got into their head that killing rabbits for fun was an acceptable use of time… I do not mean a shot with a rifle that immediately severs the mammal from life, but I mean the intentional wounding and subsequent beating of the desert fluffball for sport. And God will demand recompense for the senseless blood spilled (Gen.9). The greater power an agent has, the worse he can awry causing immense damage; or the greater he can achieve causing beauteous glory.

The question is not whether you are fulfilling the role:  sovereign over earth, plants, and animals, the question is rather: are you a good king or an heinous despot? Will God rejoice over your use of his divine authority?

Imago Dei: Strand Three
Imago Christi
Dignity and Depravity

Friday, January 10, 2014

Imago Dei: Strand One

The first strand of man in the image of God is the character of God.

I use the term ‘character’ rather loosely because I’m including aspects like rationality and volition (thinking and will). Actually, a full list of those characteristics which we image God in would surely be insufficient—lacking something unintentionally. We could try to summarize them in umbrella claims like ‘justice,’ ‘righteousness,’ and ‘love,’ but even then we are assuming thought and will, not including it in the list. The various systematic theologies like Grudem, Erickson, Berkhof, et al. as well as theological surveys like Packer’s Knowing God and Carson’s The God Who Is There still find it valuable to give explanatory lists, and so I point you to them for fuller explanations. I’m here to first rid us of an unnecessary distinction and second to appreciate broad-scale the character of God given us.

Ridding Us of an Unnecessary Distinction

It is common to talk about God’s attributes (characteristics) as “Transitive” and “Intransitive.” Sometimes different words are applied, but they intend to say that there are some characteristics of God that he shares with humanity and some that he does not. “The Intransitives,” they say, “are the three ‘omni-s’ [omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent] and his eternal-past nature.” But is that valid? Is not God also omnisapient (all wise)? And might it be better to say that God is extra-present: all things are present to him, the object of reference? And really, isn’t’ God outside of time, not simply extended on the timeline in both directions? Even at that point, do we really not share in these attributes? Can you and I not close our eyes and ‘travel’ in space and time? “Yes, but we aren’t actually there.” Fair, but I didn’t say we were the same as God just that we share in these things. And why does the prefix ‘omni-‘ or ‘all-‘ make the prefix ‘partial-‘ something different entirely? Isn’t that the way all characteristics go in the creator-creature distinction: we love, but God loves infinitely and eternally with wisdom and power. I understand there is a mass chasm between the creator and creature, but we should beware lest we make God not “holy, holy, holy,” but “unknown, unknowing, and unknowable.”

So perhaps some distinctions do need to be made between the degree (quantitative) of God’s attributes and ours, and maybe we do need to make typical (qualitative) distinctions… but we ought to ensure that those distinctions do indeed belong.

God is holy, holy, holy. We are holy from the rest of creation.

God is just—rightly interacting with all. We desire justice.

God is righteous—the genuine and perfectly coherent standard of goodness. We want good.

God is love—the perfect desire and pursuit of the other’s good even at his expense when necessary. We love.

God is glorious—having his being and actions recognized and enjoyed. We are gloried and glory others (a.k.a. reward), desiring significance.

God is rational—ordering his thoughts in perfect consistency. We are rational—arguing and considering that we might align with truth.

God is volitional—choosing and acting upon his will. We are volitional—having moral agency to choose and pursue what we want.

God is creator—creating out of nothing objects for a purpose. We are creative—creating with previous substances for a purpose.

God is impassioned—having perfect emotion, not as reaction but as premeditated response to those things he interacts with. We are emotional, responding to persons and events on more than a cognitive level.

God is beautiful—his existence being entirely and fully desirable and attractive. We are aesthetic—carrying in our bodies a form of beauty which draws us unto another and appreciating beauty on earth and in people.

God is communicative—revealing who he is through language, picture, action, experience, or the lack thereof. We are communicative—spinning sentences, stories, visual images, actions, and interactions, or the lack thereof to communicate.

By knowing God you come to know yourself. Know yourself to the point of your finitude and you will come to a knowledge of God—thus Socrates (Plato): Know thyself. And Augustine: Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee,--man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou “resistest the proud,” –yet man, this part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee. Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on Thee, or to praise Thee; and likewise to know Thee, or to call upon Thee. (Confessions, I.1.1). And John Calvin: The First Book treats of the knowledge of God the Creator. But as it is in the creation of man that the divine perfections are best displayed, so man also is made the subject of discourse. (Institutes, I.1.1). The only way to truly know who you are is to come to grips with who God is because in his image were you made, and only in being like him will you be you.

This is the first strand of the rope that is the image of God: representing him to the world, the heavens, and their inhabitants. You are the ‘icon’ of God and your composition reveals what he is like.

Imago Dei: Strand Three
Imago Christi
Dignity and Depravity

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Imago Dei: What it is

We’ve looked a bit at what the image of God is not. And we’ve looked at where to find it. Now we’ll look at what it is.  My perspective of being made in the image of God is three-stranded—like a cord or rope woven by three portions—overlapping and strengthening each other. This perspective is by no means mine alone. Oftentimes only one aspect is mentioned, but there are some who maintain this three-strand perspective despite the surrounding Christian-cultural emphases.

Strand 1: the character of God (being)
Strand 2: sovereignty (role)
Strand 3: community (interrelationship)

But! when brought together, these three strands form a picture (image) as a whole. Therefore before we even discuss the individual portions of imago Dei, we need to look at the whole.

Consider the Context

Moses is traditionally accepted as the author of Genesis during the exodus and wilderness wanderings. Speaking and instructing daily the wandering Hebrews as they roamed ancient earth between nation and kingdom, Moses would say to them,

“Look at the nations around you who worship gods of stone and wood—images after passionate and sinful gods. You are not to be like them for their idols cannot see and their gods cannot hear. You are not to worship any other gods; worship only Yahweh who has saved you from the depths of Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. Do not make any images of anything in heaven or on earth or under the earth because you are the image of God! You are the representation of Yahweh upon the earth and no stone or wooden carving can compare to humankind as representation of the divine. Stand in awe, even, that Yahweh has bestowed this gift upon us! And live in accordance with who he has made you to be! Do not wrong another because in so wronging you deface the image of God. Do not worship an image because in so doing you rue the magnificent honor of being made the finite and temporal representation of the infinite and eternal.”

Weigh the Implications

As alluded to in Moses’ hypothetical speech, there are considerable implications for the nature of worship. If we are truly the image of God in contrast to the images of neighboring nations, then…

1. All of life is sacred. The image of a god is the centerpiece of worship; they were established upon the mantel of a home to represent that this god protects this home. Worshippers would burn incense and offer prayers; they would feed the idol or sacrifice their bounty to it… in their presence. The nations weren’t foolish enough to believe that their god was encapsulated and limited to that image, but it was nevertheless the ‘intersection of heaven and earth.’ If, however, humans are God’s image, then everywhere we go and interact, we are before the presence of God; we step constantly upon the intersection of heaven and earth. All of life is sacred, and everything done is done before the eyes of almighty God.

2. Ethics, sin, and righteousness are promoted. We’ve already talked about this quite a bit lately, so I won’t belabor the point. Just know that because we are God’s images, the ante is raised exponentially. We are no longer talking about interactions between things or even beings, but rather what you do to another directly reflects on your position toward God. AND you do it as a representative of God. (Those themes sound familiar from your Bible reading?) Hating another then implies: God hates God. Simplified? Yes. Oversimplified? Maybe not.

3. Equal dignity is established. This should limit pride and encourage affinity. You are made wholly in the image of God. Daniel is made wholly in the image of God. Sarah is. John, James, and Josh; Amanda, Lauren, Hannah, and Rachel. Every human is made to represent God and maintain the dignity therein. Therefore, you cannot degrade or decry another human (cf.James3). You must respect them as humans. And… this should encourage affinity with humanity—provide substantial common ground to have discussions, learn, relate, etc. And to correct another human when they are wrong. That is to say: having all humans created in God’s image gives us ample reason to develop a justice system, governance, politics, legislature, et cetera. As representatives of God we have the right and responsibility to ensure that others live their being appropriately. (Do note that understanding the image of God gives plausible reasons for abolishing slavery & racism as well as informing/correcting moral issues—see above.)

Surely there are implications more precise, but at least these give a good start for considering the importance of this answer.

Notes of Interest

I’ll make the next things brief, though interesting they be, and deserving of further thought.

1. The sensory-malfunction language. This term is something coined by G.K. Beale in his book We Become What We Worship. In it he states that the prophet Isaiah (and others) utilize sensory-malfunction language to depict idolaters as like their idols: ‘Have eyes, but never see! Have ears, but never hear!’ He goes into long descriptions about the process of idol-making and idol-worship and says that idolatrous Israel is becoming like the idols who are carved of stone with eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. His argument gains an interesting dynamic if man is already presented as an image, living and cognizant, but now being remade into something dead and dumb.

2. Christ foreshadowed. This one will receive its own post, but I should mention it now. Early Israel is told: you are the image of God, you are the image of God, now live as worthy representatives of the Almighty and all-holy. And yet… they fail. The first Adam, created by the hand out of God from the dust of the earth is told: be my image… but he fails. Jesus however is not just a man, but is God of very God, the exact representation of his being. Jesus fulfills the image of God precisely and fully, and even more abundantly because he is divine essence. Divinity incarnated and united himself to humanity (which provides a substantial foundation for theosis if such a doctrine is possible in your understanding).

What If I’m Wrong

What if I’m wrong? What if I’m wrong about it all… either by my thinking whether logical or illogical; or what if it’s a translation things: what if the passages should be read as “by the image of God” rather than “in the image of God?” Since other portions of Scripture say that the Father created by the Son/the Word. After all, my claim that ‘the image of God is everywhere’ is based upon an understanding that these passages (Gn.1,5,9 & Jm.3) do indeed teach that we are created in God’s image. Or what if I’m wrong not about humanity being created imago Dei, but about image correlating to the nations’ idols? I may very well be wrong, but then the burden of responsibility lies on you to argue a more coherent anthropological perspective.

Remember, this has been the rope as a whole. Return soon for a look at each of the cords.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Imago Dei: Where it is

We’ve looked a bit at what the image of God is not. So let’s look at what it is (and more specifically for this post: where it is). A common approach to discerning what imago Dei means is to examine the differences between animals and mankind. This approach has some merit, but as we will see can mislead us as we get further into it. Another approach is to say man has a soul or spirit (or both), but this tends to lack a tight reasoning (particularly from the portions of Scripture where the image of God is mentioned). I think the best approach is to examine the passages themselves and understand what is involved in their context. 

Before we get to what it is, however, we need to enumerate the passages that discuss the image of God. In “What it isn’t” we listed the four explicit occurrences Genesis 1, 5, and 9, as well as James 3. But there are further implicit occurrences of the image of God, notably Psalm 8 and its New Testament correspondent Hebrews 2.7-9 (which D.A. Carson convincingly argues is about mankind in general rather than Jesus particularly, the resource which I cannot locate). But where else can the language be found? My friend, Alex recently echoed these thoughts: why do we talk so much about the image of God when the overwhelming picture in Scripture is the sinfulness of man?

Perhaps, like asking a fish about water, the image of God is something so present and sublime that we simply fail to recognize it. Perhaps it’s an assumption of Scripture throughout. After all, the ethical demands in Genesis 9 and James 3 are based on the assumption that man is made imago Dei. But if murder and words are established upon such a foundation, cannot stealing, covetousness, adultery, and all of them likely be set upon an assumption of the intrinsic dignity bestowed upon man? “Do not harm another human! Because they are God’s image.” “Love your neighbor as yourself—both created in the image of God.” But the assumption runs deeper than the command to respect another human being.

The assumption carries the reason for responsibility. Man is responsible. God is sovereign and humanity is responsible for their actions. But animals are hardly held to a similar standard. There are commands about killing an ox if it is known for goring men, but as C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain—we do not say that an animal has sinned against us, they have acted on instinct and nature: Pavlov may teach a dog to obey and perform but this is not righteousness. To the contrary: man is held responsible for his actions in ways that an animal is not. Animals may be taken out back and shot, but men must give recompense for their behavior; and only in extreme cases is their life to be taken. They are given commands because they are endowed with great power, and like a large ship it can do great good or great harm. They sit as the crown of creation and are solely to blame for the captivity of the earth (Rom.8), even as they ought to do good.

Therefore the prophets lament the behavior of man because they are made in the image of God and have chosen otherwise. Our Holy God required sacrifice from men because they have desecrated the image of God. In Exodus 13 when God tells Israel the sacrifices to be performed on the Passover, he gives them the option of redeeming the firstborn of the flock, but of the firstborn of men he requires the redemption price. In fact, as Vishal Mangalwadi discusses in The Book that Made Your World, the inherent dignity of mankind is a revelation of the Judeo-Christian worldview. The entire narrative of Scripture, the whole missio Dei (Mission of God), presupposes and assumes the value of those created in God’s image. Mankind is fallen from the glory of God, and while not worth saving God has chosen to redeem some and condemn others because they are made in his image and he loves them.

Even the existence of Scripture itself demands something unique about humankind for God has chosen to reveal himself to us in words and ways that we can understand and which awaken us to our history and his glory.

So… Imago Dei, where is it?


Imago Dei: What it isn't

Imago Dei is Latin, but in English we translate it to “Image of God.”

You and I were made in the image of God; at least that’s what Scripture says—but what does it mean to be made in the image of God?

Let’s start with stating what imago Dei does not mean.

Imago Dei is not a ‘role’ to fulfill

                In the past few months, I’ve come across this idea several times: the image of God is a role for us to fulfill—we become the image of God insomuch as we fulfill the cultural mandate: having children, gardening the earth, and caring for creation. If we do these things, we are portraying God to his created order and being the image of God. However… this simply cannot be. “Image of God” or a parallel is stated explicitly only four times in Scripture.

  • First: Genesis 1.26-28
  • Second: Genesis 5.1
  • Third: Genesis 9.6
  • Fourth: James 3.9

The first is the account of creation itself, before sin had entered the world. The second is at the head of genealogy after the fall. The third is a statement after the flood concerning the sacredness of life. And the fourth is much later and is mentioned with the power of words.

                It is true that after the first and third, specific mention is given to the cultural mandate, but it significant that three of the occurrences are after the fall—the time in which man certainly failed to ‘fulfill his role.’ Further, occurrence three and four have a particular ethical dimension applicable (apparently) to all humankind:

                ‘Do not kill [any] man for [any] man is made imago Dei.’
                ‘Do not curse [any] man for [any] man is made imago Dei.

Is this an argument from silence? In part, yes—but as C.S. Lewis [I believe] stated, an argument of silence is valid if there should be some voice in its place. If the image of God was something that could be lost or maintained by virtue of actions we do, then we ought to expect at least 1.) warning about losing it, 2.) distinction between God-fearers/God-haters by means of imago Dei language, 3.) an account of the fall from image of God in Genesis 5 (which discusses the genealogy of Adam made in man’s image, Seth made in Adam’s image, etc. apparently connecting image of God through progeny), or something. The blanket claims of James and Genesis 9, however, do not leave us with only an argument from silence but rather an argument concerning the general state of mankind. All humanity is made in the image of God whether or not they pursue goodness, truth, and beauty.

Imago Dei is not a claim of perfection upon humanity

                The argument that image of God means perfection is usually spoken by critics of one vein or another. By critics of Christianity who point to the wrongs humans do—“How could sinful man be made in the image of God? After all: to err is human, to forgive divine.” Or by individuals who err in overemphasis on total depravity.  How could one overemphasis a total depravity? By applying “total” in the wrong way or by failing to recognize the tensions Scripture maintains. The image of God does not mean that we are as good as we could be just as total depravity does not mean we are as bad as we could be. Remember again that three of the four image of God statements occur after the fall—that should be clear enough to state that the Bible never presents imago Dei as perfection. After the fall, you and I remain in the image of God—with all dignity attached to the phrase—even while we are sinners. Put another way: those in the image of God find a way to hate the very God in whose image they are made. And without qualifiers: the images of God spite God. How awful a state we find ourselves in—absolute contradiction of our very being.

Imago Dei is not a claim of body image

                This is to say, if needs be said: the Triune God does not have a physical body (apart from Christ incarnate). God is Spirit (John 4) and without corporeal form. The ‘hand’ of God and his ‘mighty right arm,’ the ‘face’ of God and his ‘nostrils’ are the Divine’s communication with humans in such a way that we might understand something of what he is like, but do not need to be taken as sense-descriptive images.

Soon we’ll consider what the image of God is.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Which Regret(s)?

The new year has come, and though the fad has mostly passed, several kids who didn’t get the memo will still be saying, “2014 ~ No Regrets!” ‘No Regrets’ became the slogan of the youth who wanted to live life without consequences—who wanted to sin and claim the unviability of a seared conscience. It was often paired with ‘Yolo!’ (You only live once) as an excuse to do whatever you wanted… and not feel bad about it.

Ironically, Jonathan Edwards had similar resolutions though not made at the new year:

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, To endeavour [sic], to my utmost, so to act, as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

Of course, Edwards differs in that he attempts to constantly correct what he had done unworthily:

40. Resolved, To inquire every night before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723

41. Resolved, to ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

So where do regrets sit? Are they appropriate responses to our past actions?

Different Types

Scripture maintains two types of ‘regret.’

For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There is the godly sorrow
And the worldly grief.

The first leads to salvation by means of repentance
And the second brings death.

Interestingly, Paul explains that godly sorrow removes regret. So “No regrets” may actually be quite biblical. Depending, of course on what we mean. For as Paul, Edwards, and countless Christians share, sin is never admirable or desirable—we ought to live in constant submission to the will of our Triune God. But what happens when we fail to do so? Paul says we have godly sorrow, repentance, and anticipate salvation—in this construct there is no room for feeling of regret. But why?

Regret is the feeling that your past has trapped your present and doomed your future; it is a debilitating mindset, controlled by fear and pride: fear because you cannot pursue what is good and beautiful without ‘mucking it up’; pride because you think you can live without the grace of God.

Regret Neglects the Work of Christ

This regret forgets that Jesus became incarnate—was born, lived, and died—that he resurrected from the death and ascended to be seated at the right hand of the Father, and that by the Holy Spirit indwelling you, he has brought the benefits of Christ’s work to your life. This means that really, actually, truly you are perfect in Christ… even when you fail to play that out in the day-to-day. Be freed from the bondage of regret that holds you back from being an agent of the kingdom of God in the world at large. Your identity is not founded on what you do but what Christ has done; who he is and who he has made you to be. When you sin, you suffer from an identity crisis, not identity theft: you remain a child of the most high God, co-heir with Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit. And what he has done on your behalf continues to be the controlling core of your being—you did nothing deserving salvation in the first, and you will do nothing acquiring damnation in the last.

Regret Neglects the Sovereign Wisdom of God

Living in regret dishonors the sovereignty of a wise God who will so orchestrate all events to sing forth his glorious praises now and evermore. Just as Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” and Paul after him, speaking ofsanctification, says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose….predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Regret denies you a future, but your future is secure in the wise plan of God: you are predestined for conformity to Christ, and all evil—even your own—will not separate you from your destiny: it will only use unlikely stones to mosaic a glorious picture.

Live 2014, and the rest of your life then, with no regret; only humble repentance when you have gone awry. Turn back toward the face of God and love him supremely by means of all life affords. Trust in the work of Christ and hope in the plan of the Father.

Resolutions taken from The Works of Jonathan Edwards with a Memoir by Sereno E. Dwight, Volume One, Revised and Corrected by Edward Hickman
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