The Image of God as Reflection

Imaging God: Incarnational Community Reaching 21st Century Generations

When I was a kid, my family would make summer trips to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. My very favorite destination was the “Upside-Down Funhouse.” As you walked through the funhouse, it gradually twisted into a tilted room, creating a strange feeling of not knowing which way was truly up. It also had a room that was completely upside-down and a rotating barrel, guaranteed to make you sick. At the end of the attraction, we would exit through one of three spiral slides. I also remember the funhouse mirrors. They were created to make you look so strange—one made you look long and skinny, another made you look round and stumpy, while another distorted your body to make it look like you were a character from a Dr. Seuss book.

As we meditate on the meaning of the imago Dei, we must remember that, as image bearers, we were created to reflect the glory of God. The reflection that God created in the Imago Dei was a glorious likeness. As God looked upon Adam and Eve, he said, “This is very good!” (Gen 1:31). After the Fall, that image in humanity looks like one of those funhouse mirrors – distorted. Distorted in such a way that all the wonder of the God that the mirror is supposed to reflect is warped. This is worse than if we were just some independent race that just does evil. We humans are meant to be the very reflection of glory!

As John Eldredge writes,

“Your story does not begin with sin. It begins with a glory bestowed upon you by God. It does not start in Genesis 3; it starts in Genesis 1. First things first, as they say. Certainly you admit that God is glorious. Is there anyone more kind? Is there anyone more creative? Is there anyone more valiant? Is there anyone more true? Is there anyone more daring? Is there anyone more beautiful? Is there anyone more wise? Is there anyone more generous? You are his offspring. His child. His reflection. His likeness. You bear his image.” (Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, p. 77)

The fact that humanity is created with and destined for “glory” is simply another way of saying that we are created in God’s image.

When I consider your heavens,
__the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
__which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
__the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
__and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
__you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
__and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
__and the fish of the sea,
__all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8)

We are made “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” which in Hebrew is actually the word “elohim,” which could be translated “God.” There can be no doubt that the ancient Hebrew reader would have read this and embraced a very high assessment of humanity. David declares that we are “crowned” with “glory and honor!” These are the highest words that can possibly be said about us!

The New Testament word used most for what Christians are to do with our lives is “glorify.” The New Testament writers understood that humanity was created to be glorious. We are, after all, image-bearers! Like the moon reflects the brilliance of the Sun, we humans were always meant to reflect the brilliance of the Creator. The Greek word doxa (glory) became so heavily influenced by the Old Testament that it came to mean “radiance,” “magnificence,” and “reflection.” Therefore, it came very close in meaning to the Greek word eikon (image). Not only is God “the Father of glory” (Eph 1:17), God has created humanity to reflect this glory. The Gospel of Christ allows for “the riches of God’s glory” (Rom 9:23) to be displayed in those whom “he prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:23).

We were always meant to be glorious reflections of the character of God. John Calvin defined the image of God in man like this: “He is to be regarded as a mirror of the divine glory.”

This is why whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we are to do it “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We were created to mirror who God is back to him as an act of worship and out into his creation as an act of service. He has created a race of beings that can mirror what theologians call his “communicable attributes,” that is, those characteristics of God that he has intentionally shared with us. While God has not given us certain “God-only” attributes (like omnipresence or omniscience), God has created us with the ability in reflect much of his character - like love, knowledge, mercy, justice, creativeness, kindness, peace, and joy.

We reflect God as we seek to do the right thing. We reflect God as we seek other people’s well being. We reflect God as we care for the creation. We reflect God as we enjoy the creation and rest in it. We reflect God as we ourselves create—art, architecture, or a good meal. We reflect God as we seek shalom peace (the universal flourishing for all in God’s creation). We reflect God when we are righteous and seek justice.

So, we were created glorious! Since God created humanity to reflect the Triune God, then glorious reflection is the very essence of what it means to be human.

technorati: , , ,


Matt said...

Amen, Bob. Looking forward to the whole series.


Bob Robinson said...

The series has been going for some time - I just put a link list in the side column.

joe said...

bob, i didnt even read the post yet. i just looked at the picture. you kinda look like Sloth from "The Goonies". Not your fault. Must be the camera.

Nate W said...

Beautiful... best post I've read yet on this blog.

And there have been some good ones!

BoseKnows said...

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

1 Cor 13:8-12 (NIV)

joe said...

ok. now i read it. well put bob. it upsets me that i had to be 20 years into my christian walk to understand this.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts on this, Bob.

2 Corinthians 3:18 passage as translated by the TNIV seems true, in that katopotrizo (my transliteraion), here katoptrizomenoi means looking into a mirror according to BAGD, and therefore to behold or contemplate.

So that we need to be seeking to focus on the glory of God in the face of Christ, thus beholding and then reflecting the Lord's glory in our hearts and lives, and thus changed increasingly into that same glory by the Lord, Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Glory = image or closely synonymous. Thanks for that thought and for the entire post.

Like C.S. Lewis, says, we're to be changed into "little christs."