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.