Christmas and the Image of God
*/"You mean to tell me God became a baby and that he was born in a cattle shed and then raised in a blue collar home?"/*
Seems absurd? I suggest it's no more absurd than other ideas of God that permeate the airwaves and ethernet around us. However why God was born as a baby may seem absurd when you contemplate it. The motive for the 'Incarnation' -- God becoming a human being is to do with a love that is not logical. The story of the Bible is the story of man letting God down. When you read the failures of Adam, Joseph, Aaron, David, Samson...God's love seems irrational. And yet that's what the Bible says. Here is the baby who had created the animals who sniffed him inquisitively in the manger after he was born. A baby who grew up to become a blood stained man who hung on a cross made of wood from a tree that he had created.
"Blood stained royalty. A God with tears. A Creator with a heart. God became earth's mockery to save his children. How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share such treasure with such thankless souls.
But he did. In fact the only thing more absurd than this gift is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it".[i]
Here is a promise which passes all understanding. Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image, and to be the brothers and sisters of the firstborn Son of God. Their goal is to become 'as Christ'. Christ's followers always have his image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight. It penetrates into the depths of their being, fills them, and makes them more and more like their Master. The image of Jesus Christ impresses itself in daily communion on the image of the disciple. No follower of Jesus can contemplate his image in a spirit of cold detachment. That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves. We become the children of God, we stand side by side with Christ, our unseen Brother, bearing like him the image of God. When the world began, God created Adam in his own image, as the climax of his creation. He wanted to have the joy of beholding in Adam the reflection of himself. 'And behold, it was very good.' God saw himself in Adam. Here, right from the beginning, is the mysterious paradox of man. He is a creature, and yet he is destined to be like his Creator. Created man is destined to bear the image of uncreated God. Adam is 'as God'. His destiny is to bear this mystery in gratitude and obedience towards his Maker. But the false serpent persuaded Adam that he must still do something to become like God: he must achieve that likeness by deciding and acting for himself. Through this choice Adam rejected the grace of God, choosing his own action. He wanted instead to unravel the mystery of his being for himself, to make himself what God had already made him. That was the Fall of man. Adam became 'as God' in his own way. But now that he had made himself god, he no longer had a God. He ruled in solitude as a creator-god in a God-forsaken subjected world. But the riddle of human nature was still unsolved. With the loss of the God-like nature God had given him, man had forfeited the destiny of his being, which was to be like God. In short, man had ceased to be man. He must live without the ability to live. Herein lies the paradox of human nature
Since that day, the sons of Adam in their pride have striven to recover the divine image by their own efforts. The more serious and devoted their attempt to regain the lost image and the more proud and convincing their apparent success, the greater their contradiction to God. Their misshapen form, modelled after the god they have invented for themselves, grows more and more like the image of Satan, though they are unaware of it. The divine image, which God in his grace had given to man, is lost for ever on this earth. But God does not neglect his lost creature. He plans to recreate his image in man, to recover his first delight in his handiwork. He is seeking in it his own image so that he may love it. But there is only one way to achieve this purpose and that is for God, out of sheer mercy, to assume the image and form of fallen man. As man can no longer be like the image of God, God must become like the image of man. But this restoration of the divine image concerns not just a part, but the whole of human nature. It is not enough for man simply to recover right ideas about God, or to obey his will in the isolated actions of his life. No, man must be re-fashioned as a living whole in the image of God. His whole form, body, soul and spirit, must once more bear that image on earth. Such is God's purpose and destiny for man. His good pleasure can rest only on his perfected image. An image needs a living object, and a copy can only be formed from a model. Either man models himself on the god of his own invention, or the true and living God moulds the human form into his image. There must be a complete transformation, a 'metamorphosis' (Rom. 12.2; II Cor. 3.18), if man is to be restored to the image of God. How then is that transformation to be effected? Since fallen man cannot rediscover and assimilate the form of God, the only way is for God to take the form of man and come to him. The Son of God who dwelt in the form of God the Father, lays aside that form, and comes to man in the form of a slave (Phil. 2.5ff). The change of form, which could not take place in man, now takes place in God. The divine image which had existed from eternity with God, assumes the image of fallen, sinful man. God sends his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8.2 f). God sends his Son - here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or a better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action, but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created on earth. The Incarnation, the words and acts of Jesus, his death on the cross, are all indispensable parts of that image.[ii]
[i] Lucado MaxGod came near Multnomah Press 1987 p34.
[ii] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-08-16). The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics) (Kindle Locations 4113-4133).