Posted on February 4, 2016
Posted on February 4, 2016
At the beginning of the book of Colossians is this curious phrase;
The Son is the image of the invisible God – Col 1:15
It hit me in a new way as I read it last week. To a lot of people God really does seem like the invisible God. Especially for those of us raised to think through western-influenced education, we are materialists. What we can see and observe are the things that we are most prone to believe.
Believers in a divine creator point to signs of beauty, complexity and design all around us. Nay sayers rightly point to the existence of evil and pain all around us and surmise that who ever the originator of our existence is he has long since dawdled away from our troubled existence as a planet and people.
Indeed, even those of us who profess belief in God, when circumstances are not going our way are prone to feel like God is distant, un-interested and certainly quite invisible. This is what is so special about the Christian ability to point to a flesh and blood image of this invisible God in Jesus. Jesus shows us what God looks like.
I began to think about this term image, and quickly realised there are a number of places it crops up throughout scriptural witness, and most significantly in the Genesis origins story.
“..in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
It seems like there is something pretty important about this idea of image. God is interested in being known, in having his character, his likeness known. He is interested is becoming un-invisible.
In genesis the account uses a familiar word to ancient hearers that we translate into the word ‘image’. In the ancient world this word was most commonly used in relation to the idols of god’s. Idols, statues or totems were seen, not as the God’s themselves but as the place where the god could be found. The place where something of their presence resided, something that physically manifest the unseen reign and authority of the god. Later on in history, empires worldwide, including the roman empire used this idea of statues to assert the authority (and in that sense, presence) of Caesars and rulers across their vast empires. Places that the caesars themselves maybe had never visited physically, but nevertheless their authority was represented and their presence felt by the subjects.
That is why the word ‘Image’ is so shocking to ancient ears when it is heard in Genesis. The hearers are used to a world where it is the humans that create idols that bear the image of gods, but here is a God who creates images of himself and those images are human image bearers.
So God creates humanity in the garden to image or show himself, just like those idle idols of the gods of the ancient world. But this time, it is his breath that gives these image bearers real life. These humans are the place where God’s rule and reign are made visible in the garden.
We all know how the beginning of the story ended in a catastrophic fall from grace, but that was not the end of story. As Paul remarks so famously in Roman, Jesus becomes a kind of second Adam, a second humanity, a reclaiming of the ancient vocation of humans to bear the image of God faithfully.
Stay Tuned for Part two next week. Be sure not to miss it by signing up for a weekly email;
If you want to receive articles like this once a week to your email sign up here