C S Lewis repeats what a woman of his acquaintance told him: that as a child she was taught to think of God as an infinite “perfect substance,” with the result that for years she envisioned God as a kind of enormous tapioca pudding. To make matters worse, she disliked tapioca. The image of God certainly must be more that tapioca pudding!
For the past several months my partner, co-pastor, and wife, Karla and I have been talking about the image on God, or in fancy theological jargon, the imago dei, on our podcast Not Holier Than You. Most all of our attention has focused on the meaning of Genesis 1.26-27. There are a lot of things we’ve covered, some only in passing comments. Other issues we’ve tried to dig into. We have tried to understand the idea of the image of God from Anabaptist, Reformed, Quaker, and Open and Relational theological perspectives. And, to no surprise, we have not yet gotten to the kernel, of the bottom of the topic. And that’s good.
The origin of the investigation arose as we wondered, what is common ground? What is there that humans share regardless of of ethnic, national, social, of political identities? We live in polarizing times.From the biblical narrative, we share in the image of God. So how can that help us in our understanding, as we as in our actions?
There is need for identity politics to highlight the oppressed identities of women, BIPOC, certain gender expressions; as well as the intersectional realities of those identities. But then opposing supremacist identities decry the lack of equal attention, even though not only had the attention all the time, but have manipulated the agenda to keep those identities as normal or ideal.
There are social and political identities which evermore so seem to talk – no scream – past each other. Dialog and evidentiary debate has been eliminated for partisan alternative facts. At times, emotional responses are taken as arguments, leaving all sides less clear and more agitated.
There is an ongoing assumption that there are two sides to every story. Sometimes there isn’t. There isn’t a positive way to spin oppression, enslavement, racism, exclusion, and myriad of other injustices. So we keep asking, is there something to be tapped in the way God created us, “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”
And in this simple statement, in its broadest sense, is about the entirety of the human family. In a reductionist mindset, we say, traditionally, this is about Adam and Eve, the first couple. But that is to conflate the two different creation stories. In this, the first creation story, it is not male and female who are created thus composing humanity. No, this is about humanity being created and it is comprised of difference. And it is in the relationship, the unity of the difference that the image of God is fully present. Not in the separate individuals, but in the combined humanity. A humanity that is not fully realized outside of relationship. In the brief description of creation of “humanity…male and female God created them” is included every racial, national, ethnic, gender, and sexual difference we can create. All humanity, in all its depth and beauty, all its confusing complexity, and all of its continual creativity is there, in humanity, as bearers of the image of God.
If we want to know the image of God, we must be open to forming compassionate and just relationships without exclusion, and thus to extend and engage in Jesus’ mission of reconciling all things to God. We keep finding that understanding the image of God compels us to contemplate the mission of God. And in our conversation with Open and Relational theologian, Thomas J. Oord, these two link to the imitation of God. So as we go forward, I think we will be considering the fancy Latin theological terms of the imago dei, the missio dei, and the imitatio dei. Understanding the image of God, leads to action in the mission of God, and in the manner or practice of imitating God (Eph 5.1).