Not too long ago I began writing a series of posts on the image of God (imago Dei). It was good for me to think through, and I hope it was helpful for you as well. This is a bit of an entry back into that discussion (which is not yet over). There are some implications and questions that come from a robust theology of being made imago Dei including its relationship to “total depravity” and the idea of imago Christi (or image of Christ). This post deals with neither of those, however, but focuses on another idea: that of being made.
God is Qualitatively Different
Our Triune God is a qualitatively different being than you and I. If you’re like many who think the ‘quality-quantity’ discussion is more confusing than convincing I’ll put it in different words: Our Triune God is of a different essence than you and I. If ‘essence’ is still confusing we’ll use a bit of an analogy. Air is intangible whereas you can be touched; there is an essential difference. Unless you’re familiar with chemistry—since air is made of elements and your body is made of elements, they actually aren’t ‘essentially’ different. Essential is, after all, a relative synonym to elemental. This is part of the problem with describing God as essentially different: everything that we have experience with is actually essentially similar. The world we inhabit is composed of numerous elements that form the chemical makeup of a table and water and flesh. Perhaps the closest we can come to understanding essential distinction is light.
Light is enigmatic. It is an antinomy—which means a truth of apparently conflicting laws. Perhaps you remember high school science classes wherein you learned that light is sometimes a wave and sometimes a particle. Light also isn’t physical in the sense that we can touch it—yet we do feel its effects. On a cold day we seek the sunlight because we received its benefits. But light mingles with everything it comes into contact with: it isn’t a self-contained, 3-dimensional substance such that we can be in a dark room and contain all light in one voluminous container without letting it alter the surroundings. If light is in a room, you see other things by it—traveling through molecules in the air it illuminates dust and walls and people. There is something strange and different about light. It is not the same as us. BUT it does affect us.
And yet… still light is created. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. There was a time when light was not. There was a time when you were not. There has never been a time when God was not. In fact, there was a ‘time’ when time was not! But even in timelessness, God is. Time is closer to your existence and mine than the proximity between you and God. Time like light, is essentially different than you and I, affecting us, intermingling with us, but time was created and God simply is. There is a chasm between the essence of God and the essence of creation, and this chasm is greater than the difference between you and light, you and time, you and a dog, you and a weevil. There is more similarity between you and paint than between you and God.
Infused with the Image
How does this fit with the image of God?
I thought that you and I were his representation.
I though you and share in his character…
Share in his sovereignty
Share in his community.
This is true. We have ‘life’ and paint is lifeless. Absolutely true, but the quality of life in God is universes away from the quality of life you and I have. The life of God is essentially (as in ‘truly’ and ‘necessarily’) infinite. God’s life is infinite. Your life is finite. And in reality, a limited/finite life is more akin to no life than unending and unprecedented and unsourced and unyielding and unfading life. It is so different that the words we use to describe it are what it isn’t like! Un-this and un-that because this and that is all that we know, and yet God is not like what we know!
We are parasites, receiving from an external source anything and everything which we are. Yahweh, though, is infinitely and eternally other. The theological word for this idea is ‘transcendent.’ Beyond. God is beyond. The furthest depths of your imagination have not scathed the base of a mountain; have not melted the tip of an iceberg; have not approached the speed of light; have not whispered the sound of an unknown language that is Yahweh—eternal, infinite, uncreated, pure, self-sourcing beauty.
Sit on that. Or better yet, fall forward and worship.
“What is man that you are mindful of him
The son of man that you care for him?”