Truth That Sings 5: The Image-Bearers

The other morning, as I had a free hour or so, I began scrolling through the “foreign” section of Netflix instant viewing. I came across a documentary entitled “A Film Unfinished.” Another holocaust documentary. For some reason I watch a lot of WWII and holocaust documentaries. It isn’t because I enjoy them in any way, but facing one of the darkest periods of the 20th century does something good for my soul. It reminds me that every human being has intrinsic value and we all know it. If there is ever a dictator who willfully suppresses this inherent knowledge, we rightly label that person a monster. I find it interesting that even those who claim they don’t believe in any transcendent Being or transcendent moral standard still feel it necessary to condemn what happened in Europe during Hitler’s aggression. Unfortunately, there is no substantive logic that would make it possible for a relativist to recognize (much less denounce) such a thing. If life is simply the survival of the fittest (as Hitler firmly believed), then there is no reason to denounce the Arians for being more “fit” than those they classified as the “lower races.” However, no one can live as if that is really true. Even self-proclaimed atheists retain a firm belief that human life has intrinsic value; to deny this basic reality makes life an unceasing horror show.

The first few chapters of Genesis make this extremely clear. In the Biblical narrative, humans are created “in God’s image.” The text itself never goes into exhaustive detail as to what this phrase means, but in a lot of ways, it’s obvious. We can basically point to things humans do that animals don’t; sigh, laugh, cry (although I’ve seen some dogs do this), reason, think abstractly, blog, paint, play the hammered dulcimer, etc. The image of God implanted in us; animated lumps of clay, comes out in just about everything we do. Apart from being a divinely bestowed gift, there’s no accounting for it.

Humans bear the image of God and any competent presentation of the gospel needs to communicate this reality. Unfortunately, many gospel presentations begin with mankind’s sinful state and barely mention mankind’s original glory. This form of the gospel is basically that there is a problem and that there is a solution to the problem. Which is true, but the gospel is much more than just a solution to a problem. The gospel is about restoration, redemption and reconciliation. See how those words all begin with “re”? The very nature of salvation is re-turning us to our former dignity as God’s image-bearers. Unless we are given a compelling portrait of how mankind was created and for what, we don’t even understand what salvation is. Salvation becomes a mechanical transaction rather than an estranged child coming home to a loving father who throws a party, like Jesus actually described (Luke 15). None of Jesus’ images of salvation were transactional or mechanical in anyway. They involved restored relationships and joyful celebrations. So in order for us to understand what’s so good about the good news, we need to begin with our original state as God’s image bearers.

The gospel presentations of “sin management” will barely touch on this. I’ve heard such presentations simply refer to humans being created “without sin” which is a woefully inadequate descriptor for the first two chapters of Genesis. First, it’s a negative descriptor. It sets sin as the standard by which we are measured. Are we “with sin” or “without sin”? In this formulation, the good choice is the negative choice. There is no positive descriptor for what we are called to in this formulation. It tells us nothing about pre-fallen existence of humanity. So we need to go a little deeper than “without sin” to understand the fullness of the glory and dignity God bestowed upon humanity at our creation.

In Genesis 1, we see the creation of humanity as the zenith of creation. The poetic text is shaped so that there is a rhythm gradually building into a climax. Darkness, light, day, night, stars, moon, sea, land, plants, animals and then… for the first time, God confers with Himself (Father, Son, Spirit) and we see that God premeditates His creation of humans, something we did not see up until now. It’s almost as if the rest of creation were merely setting the stage for the main attraction: humanity. Whatever this wildly creative God is doing in Genesis 1, He’s doing it to make humans possible. Why? Who knows? The answer to “why” is answered gradually throughout the Biblical revelation. God is triune; God in Himself exists in a dynamic relationship, overflowing with joyful love. Throughout the Bible, we find that God created humanity not because He was lonely (far from it!) but because He was literally overflowing with goodness and love, and desired to bring more persons in on it. The party was and is so epic, God desired to include more. This might be difficult to reconcile with our current image of God that generally comes from a few passages in the Bible, cobbled together to create the illusion of God as petty tyrant. (We’ll see who is responsible for that illusion when we meet the serpent in the next post.) The reality is, as we’ve seen, that Jesus reveals a God with a fatherly heart. To disbelieve Jesus and believe the serpent is a fatal, but prevalent error among the religious.

God created humans not to be puppets or robots or mere servants, but friends. This reveals a lot about God. He is the kind of God who instills in His creation an ability to be authentically relational. God isn’t interested in pre-programming humans to act in a certain way; He creates and bestows a freedom on His creation so that a real friendship can be possible. Being created in God’s image is an honor that no other part of God’s creation shares; it is bestowed upon humanity alone. What it doesn’t mean is that all of us are a “part of God.” The new age spirituality that make this claim is not based on the Biblical account of creation. We are created in the image of God, but we are created. We are not pieces of God that broke off, entered this materialistic illusion and are now trapped in bodies. New age spirituality is a modern form of Gnosticism. The Biblical account is far from gnostic. In the Bible, God creates matter and calls it good. This physical world is no illusion, it is given reality by God. God loves it. In Gnosticism, only spirit matters and matter doesn’t. The Bible never validates that view. In humans, spirit and body are intricately interwoven; the spirit is not “trapped” in the body, the body and spirit mutually nourish each other in a symbiotic unity.

To be created in God’s image and then placed in the Garden of Eden where there were all manner of things “pleasing to the eye” speaks volumes as to what kind of God our creator is. When we fail to begin with pre-fall Eden, we lose something vital to the rest of the gospel. We lose the creativity of our God. Look around you. Watch the Planet Earth DVDs and marvel at the complexity, the variety, the artisanship of this world alone. God is not a utilitarian simply concerned with functionality and pragmatism. Unfortunately His people sometimes present Him as such, but God is actually The Great Artist, as His creation reveals. A God who was merely interested in efficiency would never have commissioned the Bible to be written as it is – story, poetry, parable, etc. – nor would He have created this world to be so “pleasing to the eye.” Again, I’m not saying order and efficiency don’t have a place in God’s creation, but it isn’t its pinnacle: beauty is. When we reflect that wild beauty of the Great Artist, that desire to express through creation, we are “imaging” God. When we “lose” a life lived simply for survival and gain a life lived for the sake of loving God and the people around us, we are imaging God. When we think, reason, and explore various “hidden potentialities” embedded in creation (music, mathematics, physics, theology, etc.) we are “imaging” God. And when we respect and delight in creation; multiplying it, structuring it and living in harmony with it, we are imaging God. And it goes on and on. There is no way to exhaustively diagram or explain the image of God in us. But that’s how it always is with God’s gifts. God’s main currencies are love and grace, two unquantifiable commodities. They exist only by being out of balance and incomprehensible. Once you have “balanced grace” you no longer have grace! It is undeserved or in the classical language, “unmerited.” That’s its nature. Every attempt to “balance” these unquantifiable commodities is to diminish them. Living into our image-bearer identities will mean living in the sheer exuberance of God’s love and grace. The first grace God has shown to us was creating us in His image. It infuses life with meaning, exploration and discovery. We do not have to go find meaning outside of humanity; God has “put eternity in our hearts” (Ecc. 3:11) and though it may be tarnished and broken within us, there is a RE-storation offered through the True Human, the “Son of Man” who is also (in a unique way) the IMAGE of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).

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~ by shardsofeternity on June 2, 2011.

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