In the Image of God: People of Belonging

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” (Genesis 1.26, NRSV).

In the previous three posts I have written, I’ve shared some ways in which I believe the Genesis is reorienting how we see ourselves as people created in the image of God. Given the historical situation in which this narrative was spoken, it serves as the beginning of an alternative voice for a people being called to be God’s people once again. To that end, the narrative reminds the people who they are as God’s created people so that they can once again imagine what it is to live as God’s people rather than as slaves to a broken world and the rulers who seek to dominate that world.

Though people are sinners, the narrative reminds them that they are not completely depraved. There is something about them that is still good, beautiful, and of worth by virtue of the divine image they bear. This is, however, something they have lost sight of amidst 430 years of captivity (Ex 12.40) and so it is something, by God’s grace, they are being called to live again.

This, of course, means that bearing the divine image is to live with great responsibility and power, for it is the people alone who have been given the divine vocation of exercising “dominion” over the rest of creation. Because this vocation is inseparable to the divine image the people bear, it is a life-giving vocation that exercises the same love and caring stewardship the Creator providentially acts with. That is a different game than the game of self-serving consumerism and violence that dominates our world.

The reason for this vocation is also found in the subtle yet plural voice “Let us…”. Despite difficulties in identifying just who the first-person plural voice is identifying, it does point to the presence of community within the very fabric of creation. The creation narrative itself goes on to describe a life of community…God dwells with humanity (Adam and Eve) who also dwell with each other among the rest of creation.

The presence of community laden within creation itself reminds us that God’s created intent is bigger than, as I often jokingly say, my favorite three people: me, myself, and I. It was a reminder to Israel that the purpose of life was bigger than their own existence. They (and we) were created in community as people of belonging, belonging to God and each other who bear the divine image as people created to be a life-giving blessing (Gen 1.26, 28) among the community so that life itself would be lived as God created it to live.

Considering the theology of the creation narrative, I must ask: What then would it look like to participate in a communal life as people belonging to God and each other for the sake of being a life-giving blessing among the community? In short, the answer to this question is, I believe, the goal of God’s redemptive mission in Christ and the picture of God’s purpose for the church. But that is for another discussion some other time.

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Click on the following three titles, An Alternative Story, Bearing His Likeness and Participants in Creation to read the first three posts in this series.

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2 responses to “In the Image of God: People of Belonging

  1. There is a very good book entitled Being as Communion by Metropolitan Zizioulas, and he develops the idea that the Essence of the Godhead is a Communion of Persons and that redeemed humanity reflects that in a unity of persons within the Common Nature we have in Christ. Classical, that is to say, Orthodox Catholic, and Scriptural conversion to Christ has that embedded in the heart of the process. The person is not fully a Christian until God acts in the Church upon the candidate by the Mystery of Baptism, by which the person is incorporated into the Body of Christ which is a community of people who hold a common faith and participate in the Holy Spirit. This is in contrast to the prevailing evangelical ‘sinner’s prayer’ approach, that is embedded in a monophysitic view of salvation, that is individualistic to the core and penetrated with philosophical nominalism to boot. Any movements towards grace, in Restoration movement folks then, that are a move towards ‘sinner’s prayer’ type of processing of souls into the Kingdom, is a move towards the deconstruction of Church and Community and poses perils because it does not communicate the fullness of our salvation.
    There is a strand of Orthodox theology that says ‘we retained the image of God, but lost the likeness’. The likeness is viewed as the state of being wherein Adam was a participant in the Divine Energies, and by those energies lived the God-filled life. It is the retention of the image that makes it possible that man may be saved, for it is the residue of free will within the image that enables man to respond to the proffered calls of grace. Thus salvation is synergism, by virtue of the persistence of the Divine Image.

    • I’m going to add this book to my Amazon wish list (if I can). I read a book once written by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Theology Professor at Fuller Seminary) that discussed what Protestants could learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church on creation-redemption and theosis.

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