“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” Roman 8:9
“O be joyful in God, all ye lands, alleluia: sing praises unto the honor of his Name, alleluia: make his praise to be exceeding glorious, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia… Say unto God, O how wonderful art thou in thy works, O Lord…” from the Introit
I want to begin by identifying the image and likeness of God in man and then say something about how it relates to our lives. It begins with the givenness of experience. Not the experience I preached about a few weeks back in which experience is mistaken for knowing. Nor is it experience as a modern article of faith that drives people from one experience to another, from one job to another, from one spouse to another, trying this and then trying that, fearful of missing out on an experience that might make life meaningful and happy. I mean none of that. Well what do I mean by experience and what does that have to do with the image of God? What I want you to experience, as a Christian, is your own attentive, intelligent and responsible self-consciousness as it takes possession of itself as your own attentive, intelligent and responsible self-consciousness. As you do that you experience the image of God in which you were born, the very image that has been strengthened and refreshed through the heavenly virtues infused into your life when you were regenerated in Holy Baptism.
So the first thing I want you to understand is that the image and likeness of God is not something you will come to know by introspection and contemplation. The image of God will never flash before one’s inner eye as a phantasm to gaze upon while one slumbers in solitude upon a couch. Why not? Because the image God is not a matter of abstract concepts, not nouns like intelligence, or goodness, or love, but rather you will know the image of God as you increase your activity and appropriate the image of God for living reasonably, responsibly, Godly, diligently, humbly, and patiently in the world.
The second thing I want you to understand is this: the image of God is not a thing, not an entity; it is not some piece of yourself that you will see by gazing into a mirror. What then is the image of God? The image of God is quick, living, and powerful; it is what most learned men from Aristotle until the Enlightenment called potency, which means basically potentiality or power or strength, though it is never entirely dormant. The Greek word that is translated potency is dunamis, which we usually find translated in the New Testament as power or strength. So the image of God is a potency that is part and parcel of what it means to be a human being, and it is consciously experienced in your attentiveness, your intelligence, your reasonableness and your intention to live responsibly in the world. And as you practice this you will become consciousness that the image of God is actively shaping your way of life in the world.
And here is the third point I wish to make: far from being something to be gazed upon or a grand idea to hold in your mind you actually consciously and intentionally experience the image of God when you buckle down to being a Christian and get serious about living intelligently, reasonably, and responsibly in every piece of life because when you do that (and frankly no one can do it for you) you experience the image of God not as potency, not as potential, but you experience the image of God in actuality which is how Aristotle and most learned men until the Enlightenment would have referred to it. The word that we usually translate as actual is a Greek word energeia that means basically “being-at-work,” which means the potential has become actualized in your activity. Furthermore as you appropriate the image of God by consciously and intentionally increasing your activity of responsible living, forming responsible judgments that lead to responsible action, you will also achieve self-transcendence; you will discover afresh what it means to lose your life in order to find it. And to the degree that you consciously and intentionally appropriate the image of God as the activities of attentiveness, intelligence, reasonableness and responsibility, and even more so with the refreshing of Holy Spirit, you will grow an authentic Christian life. And growing an authentic Christian life will keep you close to Jesus as you perform more and more, greater and greater acts self-giving love.
One last important point about the image of God is this: the image of God is not an add-on to human nature, it is not even a gift of grace to humanity, but rather it is the sine qua non of human nature. There is no such thing as human nature apart from the image of God; it is the chief mark of our identity a human beings. It is precisely what separates us from the rest of creation. It is why we do not live like we belong in an episode of Animal Planet. We are creatures sculpted from dirt and made in God’s own image, the very creature that has the potency and the actuality to love and rule reasonably and responsibility over his creation. That is the Image of God and that is the Image of Man; it not only separates you from all other creatures, but it is what makes you fit to rule over creation.
The reason this is so important – the reason I have repeated over and over again that the image of God is summed up in our activity of being attentive, being intelligent, being reasonable, and being responsible is because we live in a time in history in which these essentially human activities are no longer thought to be valid or meaningful. All that matters today is this or that perspective and what has been lost is a belief that there is truth to be discovered and affirmed and acted upon. A perspective is just a perspective, possibly a condition of truth, a potential bit of evidence. But in this present darkness perspective is taken for understanding, equivalent to whatever remains of truth, which it is not: at best perspective is evidence, at worse perspective is bias. Nihilism, as Flannery O’Connor said, is the very gas we breathe today. And one reason for that is that our world today is dominated by a philosophy of atheistic materialism that takes all that exists to be matter in motion. I am not disputing the scientific method or evolution or cosmology, but I am disputing the scientists that go from being scientists to making pronouncements as though they are qualified to be philosophers and metaphysicians and even quasi-theologians. But first lets take a look at the contemporary myth of materialism.
The materialist’s narrative begins with the Big Bang, which is always described as the singular mother of all thermonuclear explosions that set the universe in motion. But it is important to remember that it is all matter, all material and nothing else – matter in motion. Strict materialists insist that there is no such thing as mind, or consciousness, or spirit because spirit, consciousness, and mind are non-material and therefore nonexistent. For the materialist mind and consciousness are just so many elegant electrical impulses firing in the material substance of what we call the human brain and the body. Nothing more – in reality there is no such thing as mind or spirit or consciousness and because of that the very things we so highly value like intelligence, reason and responsible living, true decisions or even willing are not real. The whole universe from the beginning including humanity are just so many machines either running well or sputtering out and breaking down; and once the machine breaks down there is nothing; there is no mind or spirit or soul that wings itself away, we simply go silent like the voices on a radio when you pull the plug. It rust or rots and dissolves and is absorbed by other materials – but you, or what you thought you were, is finished, non-existent, no more. All that exist is matter in motion, stimulus and response, or more exactly stimulus and twitch. Materialism remind me of Jack Burden’s nihilism in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men in which Jack comes to the conclusion about midway through the story that “all the words we speak meant nothing and there was only the pulse in the blood and the twitch of the nerve, like a dead frog’s leg in the experiment when the electric current goes through it.”
There you have it, the universe, and all that therein is, is mechanical, machine-like, and what we call human intentionality, or the human subject, or self-consciousness or responsibility are fictions because the only thing that is really real is matter in motion and what we end up with is a universe, including human beings that are really just twitching pieces of material things responding to the spasms of other material things all of which will eventually wear out and stop convulsing – which is what we call being dead. What we call art, or ethics, or decisions, or thinking is nothing but electrical impulses evoking a twitch. For the materialist reality is twitch and response – there is no intentionality because machines do not have intentionality.
Now it is true that all twitching is not equal at least in magnitude; some things produce bigger twitches and jolts than other things – the trembling of a butterfly is nothing compared to a lurching earth quake and that is nothing compared to the unimaginable spasms that are coursing through interstellar space, and that is nothing compared to the great waves of intergalactic twitching. (Warning: at this point I begin to mock materialists.) But here’s the thing: if you use your non-existent mind and think some non-existent thoughts, you have to ask your non-existent self what started everything twitching in the first place? And if you continue to think about it rather than taking a nap or watching some TV, or getting distracted, it will occur to you that nothing begins twitching on its own therefore there must be, as crazy as it sounds, an un-twitched Twitcher who started the ball rolling.
If what we Christians call creation is merely matter in motion what a happy coincidence that all that matter in motion turns out to be not merely mechanistic but intelligible, meaningful, beautiful and good. Futher more what a stroke of good fortune that human beings evolved from matter with the capacity to experience stuff and to grasp the intelligible, to understand it and to order our lives in a responsible manner because instead of an untwitched Twitcher, there is God who created all that is out of nothing but his love. And this one creature, this furless primate standing upright, this human being, he created in his own image and endowed him with the potency to know and understand creation, to frolic in its beauty and wonder, and lead creation to the Altar of God:
“O be joyful in God, all ye lands, alleluia: sing praises unto the honor of his Name, alleluia: make his praise to be exceeding glorious, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia… Say unto God, O how wonderful art thou in thy works, O Lord…”