Imago Dei

Posted by: Pastor Clint Reiff 2 years, 11 months ago

We must be careful to remember the powerful doctrine of the imago Dei --the fact that all people are created in the image of their Maker. I choose the word "are" since it’s particularly important to understand that the Fall didn’t cancel our image-bearing status. Yes, sin severely distorted our once perfect reflection of God, but the Fall did not totally cancel our divine reflection. Consequently, one of the strange truths of the doctrine of the imago Dei states: “How you treat any person is the same as how you treat God.” The inverse is also valid, because of the impact of imago Dei: “How we treat God is how we treat others.”

Numerous Scriptures refer to this spiritual idea:

  • The wisdom literature supports this principle (Proverbs 14:31 and 17:5);
  • The greatest commandment features two directives because of this equation (Matthew 22:34-40);
  • And, Jesus provocative lesson on the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46) permanently ties our horizontal obligations to our vertical duties.
  • Finally, James 3:9-10 provides possibly the clearest link between this creature-Creator responsibility, as it identifies unsatisfactory behavior for any Christian. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be."

Randomly ask people on the street what story they remember most about Jesus. Of those who are aware of any story at all, my hunch is that many will recall the time He walked on water. Many churchgoers would also select that story, for it’s a clear picture of His divinity. That story was, ironically, the only time Jesus appears to be primarily benefiting from one of His own miracles. In other words, that story doesn’t represent the rest of His life and ministry. It’s actually the exception to His rule-of-thumb service to others.

The doctrine of the incarnation, what we celebrate at Christmas, has been correctly called a mystery (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:9; and Colossians 1:26-27). By definition, mysteries are never totally explained in this life, but our human nature can’t handle that truth. We crave closure – often immediately –even for life’s toughest problems. That same mentality causes us to read ahead to the last chapter of mystery novels to get the answer before we know the right questions.

We shouldn’t be shocked when major challenges to our faith often force convenient (yet abbreviated and unbalanced) answers. We frequently settle for incorrect positions just to reach some solution, instead of holding mysteries in their proper tensions. When that black-or-white thinking pattern is transferred to the incarnation, Christ’s humanity constantly loses out to His divinity for most Christians. This conflicting thought pattern produces an inferior Jesus, and so short-sighted picture of Christmas distorts our Easter hope. A diminished view of His humanness also cheapens discipleship, because of the trustworthiness of the creation equation. When we minimize His humanity, we do the same to ours.

What are the alternative ways to think about the nature of Jesus’ birth? I believe we must acknowledge Jesus’ once-for-all past work as our Savior, while we also hold the complementary notion of Jesus’ minute-by-minute present word as our high priest (Hebrews 2:11-18). These tensioned truths from the Christmas mystery are vital. His title of Savior provides us with the only way to eternal life, while His title of High Priest offers us abundant living. To select the first without the second – and thousands of Christians seem to opt for this position –is like giving birth to a child and then never bothering to nurture that child.

Max Lucado skillfully addresses the humanity of Christ this way:

For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He was afraid of failure. He was susceptible to wooing women. He got colds, burped, and had body odor. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. And his head ached.

To think of Jesus in such a light is—well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It’s not something we like to do; it’s uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer.

He’s easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable.

But don’t do it. For heaven’s sake, don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.

-- Pastor Clint

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