The Grace and Lace Letter
1998: Christmas Remembered
Some verses of Scripture are so straightforward that we mistake their brevity for simplicity. Surely Genesis 1:27 is one of those. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Let's examine a series of questions about God and humans.
Does God have a gender?
There's absolutely no reason to suspect that God has a gender. We call God "He" because we lack a word to express God's identity. "It" is not an acceptable pronoun, and "she" was unacceptable to the men who wrote the scriptures. But God is Spirit, and is so far above us humans in every way. Spirit does not require sexual identity or differentiation. Sex is a characteristic of almost all animals on Earth, making possible procreation and the continuity of the species. An omnipotent God is not in need of such characteristics.
Genesis 1:27 continues: "Male and female he created them." Does this mean God is both male and female? Or does it mean that God transcends gender?
Because Jesus was male, it has been traditional to attribute maleness to God also. But Jesus lived his earthly life in a human body and shared all the traits of that body; God the Creator was never so bound. Jesus addressed God as "Father," but this could be interpreted as a loving parental role rather than a physical sex differentiation.
What about those who teach "Goddess" theology?
In earliest history, humans associated fertility in women with fertility in the Earth. Harvest time was a time to give thanks to the deity for abundance of food. Women provided abundance of babies (nothing was known about the male's role in conception). Goddess worship has continued to exist through the centuries. The concept appeals to women who feel marginalized in the male dominated churches. It also appeals to a number of transsexuals who identify as feminist. The inclination to discard every vestige of maleness leads some to turn to Goddess theology. Correspondence with them is interspersed with "Goddess only knows," "Goddess bless," and pointed references to "She" rather than "He."
Let's be fair. There is no more evidence to suggest God is female than there is to suggest God is male. It seems much more reasonable to understand God as being transcendent over a sex limitation. Goddess worship may be satisfying from a feminist viewpoint, but it is no more supported by the evidence from scripture or from life than is the concept of God as "father" as we discussed above.
Therefore we can conclude that since God is Spirit, not limited by the time and space restriction of a physical body, our being "created in the image of God" is not a physical similarity.
This makes irrelevant the claims of persons who tell us, "You should not alter your body because you are made in God's image." The similarities are spiritual.
What can we share of God's image?
I can think of these possibilities.
Free Will. This means we are capable of making choices which influence our lives and the lives of others. We are not automatons, programmed to live in a predetermined manner. Much has been written, and entire denominations have been built, around concepts of predestination and foreknowledge. I believe that God gives each of us the power to choose our destiny.
The Capacity To Love. If we exercise our free will and choose to permit God to direct our lives, we are the beneficiaries of His incredible, boundless love. The more we choose to let love fill our lives, the more like God we become. Jesus was completely filled with this life-giving love. We can choose to let love fill us and overflow us, turning away from fear, hate, and anger.
Life That Never Ends. Many persons believe that this physical life is all there is. I have considered the possibility. I admit that there's no scientific proof that our lives continue in consciousness of some sort, a sentient spirit, after this physical body ceases its bodily function. I had a dear friend here in Phoenix who was a researcher and lecturer in paranormal studies. He frequently spoke of communication with the spirits of the deceased. When he became ill and died, many of his friends wondered if he would try to contact them. As far as I know, no one has reported any possible contacts.
My belief in soul survival is a part of my faith which goes beyond scientific knowledge. Is my faith a self deception because I wish to believe it? Is it that the alternative is too horrible to contemplate? I would have to answer that in the negative. The thought of simple non-existence after physical death is saddening but not terrifying. There would be no more sense of self, no more identity, no more consciousness, but I wouldn't be aware of the absence. I just wouldn't be. But I truly don't believe that existence ends at physical death. God loves us too much to make this our only experience on eternity's stage. We are made in his image, and we share a continuing existence. I cannot prove it; I do not see it; but I am certain of it.
I have omitted other human attributes. Being made in God's image does not mean that we have the authority to judge or condemn others. It does not convey supernatural powers on us, although part of our faith history includes miracles performed by Jesus and others under special circumstances. It does not mean that we can choose to be equal with God. We are created, and we are lesser beings than our creator.
But the fact that in us there is this wonderful love, which overflows and blesses others, shows us the nature of God's even greater love which has overflowed in so many ways. Jesus was the tangible human manifestation of God's limitless love, and by submitting our lives to his power, we can tap into its source.
I believe God is perfect. An imperfect God would experience failures in his plans for our lives, and chaos would result. God does not fail, but we fail. Our human knowledge is fallible and will not endure.
I believe it is imperative for our growth as humans, as children of God, to recognize and admit our failures. It's permissible to fail, to be imperfect. God loves us even in our failure. He can turn each failure into an opportunity to grow.
More unfortunate than failure is the inability to recognize or admit our failures. I have to wonder, how many times through our history, persons whom God has created in his image are unable to admit their fallibility. I'm sure I have done it myself in the past. It's not for me to judge, but it is disturbing to see others put themselves in the position of having all the answers. In assuming to know God's exact intention in every Scripture, a person implies "my knowledge is infallible. God has revealed his meaning to me, and that's the way it is."
I submit that such a person is "making God in his (man's) own image," rather than the other way around.
We make God in our image when we superimpose our prejudices on God. The obvious example is the person who carries a sign saying "God hates fags." What he's really saying is "I" hate these persons, and God must be just like me, so God hates them too.
Love and hate are incompatible: matter and anti-matter. They do not exist together, and I can't believe that they coexist in God. My God is not a God of hate. My God is a God of love. We make God in our image when we demand adherence to legalistic lists of prohibited behvavior and neglect Jesus's example of inclusive love.
We exist in a world of images. We ourselves are not God, but we have been given some of God's characteristics. We have in us enough of God to produce a thirst for the true reality which transcends this existence.
Augustine is reported to have said, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and the heart of man is restless until it finds rest in Thee." In Jesus we satisfy our thirst and find that rest:
We seek the Master of whom we are imperfect copies. In this life we will not fully become one with God, but we can grow closer and closer as we make the choice to allow love to fill and overflow us. In the continuation of life to come, which we can see by faith, we will finally become one with him and with all who have shared this thirst.
I think I will like that very much.