The Image of God
One of the things I enjoy doing is reviewing books. There is a well-known service known as CHOICE. This organization offers reviews of new books and, now, other media. For quite some time, I have been a reviewer for the organization. They send me three or four books annually and I read and write a review. Libraries and other places routinely plan their buying of new resources by seeing what the CHOICE reviews say about particular books. I am not paid to do this, but I do get to keep the book I review.
Probably I would not buy most of these books. Some of them I don’t even like very much. Those are not fun reviews to write. Other books are good and some are even amazing. I have read things I otherwise would not have read. And it is a good way for me to stay current in my own area of studies.
A book arrived recently and I have been reading it to prepare to write the review. When I saw the author’s name, I immediately recognized it. I have read and reviewed an earlier book by him. In fact, the guy is writing a five-volume series, so I am on number two in this series. I really liked the first volume and am enjoying the second one as I read it. The author, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, has finished volume 3 which I now have. It is entitled, Creation and History. It focuses on the Christian perspective on creation and nature, plus a Christian look at human nature. I am intrigued by both issues.
Since it is a huge book, I choose to share a passage here and there which jumps out at me. In the section on human nature, I read the following sentence. “Human personhood does not admit degrees.” (427) He follows this with reference to humans being created in the image of God. He says, “Defining the image of God in terms of being related to God saves theology from anchoring human dignity in the possession of a quality or commodity, such as intelligence or health. One’s relation to the Creator is not affected in the least by one’s disabilities, not even intellectual ones.” That strikes me as pretty profound. Let’s unpack it a little bit.
It is insightful to vest the idea of the image of God in God and not in human beings. Simply put, this means that God is in charge of making us all in God’s image. There is no limitation---that is, if you are human. It takes humans off the hook, so to speak, of trying to figure out who is in the image of God and who may have become too far out of it to qualify anymore. I find that a relief.
I do not find it surprising that Käkkäinen talks about the “dignity” of humans. This relates the image of God to the dignity of humanity. In this sense dignity is not some social norm or expectation; it is a divine declaration. It is as if God declares, “I created you and, therefore, you possess dignity.” Dignity is not a matter of wealth, education, luck, upbringing, etc.
The author says as much. He says that human dignity if not related to possession of any quality or commodity. It is always tempting to think the smart ones are the ones who have it made. They are “better than” the rest of us. Perhaps in worldly terms, this is true. Smart ones do have advantages in many ways. But they have no advantage when it comes to God and relating to God. To me that is not funny; it is a relief. It says, “If you’re not smart, don’t worry!”
That goes for health, too. In effect, it acknowledges that sick people, disabled people and all other limited human beings are also created in the image of God and, therefore, carry an inherent dignity in themselves. Once again, this is so unlike the world and how the world tends to treat people. Too easily we marginalize or dismiss the old people, the infirm, the weak, etc. Essentially, the world tells these folks they are not productive and, hence, they are not worth anything! Effectively, the world is saying to these people, “God damn you!”
But that’s not God’s intent or style. As the old kid’s saying goes, “God don’t create junk!” God deals in dignity, not dumps. That does not mean we cannot on our own become derelicts. Even though we are in the image of God and carry that divine dignity within us, we can still choose to be and act in undignified ways. We don’t lose our dignity, but we abuse it. It is there all along and can be restored. But we can surely show our worst side.
The bottom line remains. We are images of God and we are inherently creatures of dignity. As I get older, this is good news. If I am not beautiful, this is very good news. I don’t have to apply for or qualify for my dignity. Of course, others can deny it in me. Others can try to take it away. Or worse, make me feel like I don’t have dignity or don’t deserve it.
That is why these couple of sentences from this new book are so important. And this is the message that all folks who think they know anything about God or sense of relationship with that God need to take forward into our world. To have this perspective on creation and humanity would take away any cause for racism, sexism, classism, etc. It says to all humans: we share the same treasure in earthen vessels. We are the living dignity of the Divinity Itself.