Ikon

[At the beginning of the month I posted on us being created in the Image of God, and my friend Kat came back with a few questions in the comment stream. I’ve been battling with the best way to respond to her for a while… I’m going to try a partial response today.]

The Genesis account of creation currently has a lot of controversy attached to it. It has somehow become a point of reference between Christians and non-Christians for all the wrong reasons. Are we to take it literally? If we don’t, then how are we to read it?

One thing we can be sure of: it is a description of the making of creation. Whether it is allegory or recipe, it is seeking to tell us something about the making of the world. That means that if we value the bible at all, then we must pay attention to what is said here.

What we get in Genesis 1 is a step-by-step guide to creation, with each step purposefully instigated by God. It has in intentionality to it: God says, God does, God reflects and sees it is good.

So, if we take this passage as meaningful, then it shows that the world around us is not random. It is planned. It is purposefully and painstakingly crafted. God doesn’t suddenly shout ‘allakhazam!’ and all of a sudden a universe is created: He takes time with each step and detail.

And each step is good. Not ok, not indifferent, but good. In God’s eyes, the light is good; the sun and the starts are good; the birds and plants and the animals are good; and mankind is very good.

Here we get to the image of God. We are made, by God, to be like God. And that is very good.

Now Kat points out how an image is not as good as the real thing. Well, that may be true, but that doesn’t make an image poor. The Mona Lisa is only an image, only a reflection of the lady it portrays, but its still pretty good (beautiful in fact), and the world is a better place for its existence. And what we are talking about here is the image of God; so any reflection we make is of the creator of the universe. Any reflection we make of that will still be pretty special, don’t you think?

In Sex God Rob Bell talks about how the gods of the ancient near east were usually images of created things, tied to a particular location. And where the idea of the image of god is used it is often tied to a particular person, such as a king, who rules as the embodied image (or ikon) of a particular deity. Egyptian king Tutankhamum is “the living image of (the god) Amun”, which I’m sure gives him an added sway with his subjects! (“you can’t argue with me, I’m the living embodiment of your god!”)

Yet the difference with the Genesis account is that here every human is made in the image of God. Every person, man or woman, slave or free, child or adult, all carry some reflection of the God who made the universe. If to be the “living image of (G)od” is an indication of status, then the Genesis account confers that status on all of us. We are all significant, because we all reflect that image.

If we are “a poor copy of God”, then this isn’t a bad thing. This section of Genesis 1 finishes with a modified ending to the now-familiar pattern. God looks at the ‘adam’ (mankind, human) He has made in His image, and say that this work is very good.

Where light is good, trees are good, stars are good and birds and animals are good, we are very good.

We may be ‘poor copies’ of God, but to be poor copies of perfect, is still very good.

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One thought on “Ikon

  1. I am unsure what Rob Bell means by the gods of the near east being images of ‘created things’. A quick scan down the List of Egyptian Gods shows that though some gods are associated with man made things, most are either natural things such as animals or the sun for example or concepts such as war. From my limited understanding (at least from the Egyptian perspective which I probably know most about in terms of the ancient religions) there was one ‘first God’ Re-Atum, he created the air (shu) and water (Tefnut) who then birthed the Earth (Geb) and the sky (Nut). Re-Atum’s tears created the humans. There are obviously many other gods in the Egyptian pantheon and I see these as precursor ideas to things such as the Christian patron saints where you have one person or image if you prefer that deals with a specific concept or man-made idea (I remember the lists you get in the front of Gideon bibles in hotel rooms about which saints deal with what problems 😉 ). After all the central tenant of Christianity is it is monotheistic and therefore you cannot call these other saints ‘gods’ or you’d be violating the laws of the religion.

    The idea of the image of god being tied to a particular person I see as much like the Pope in Christian doctrine. He is not the personification of God such like you used in your Tutankamun example but I believe that was a later coruption of the religion to serve political purposes (I can find nothing to link to for this so cannot say for definite). He is effectively though the ‘voice of god on earth’ and as such has the right to define what the (Catholic) religion is.

    I admit that I cannot think of another religion at the moment that explicitely states that people are created in the image of god. But being devils advocate here and using deliberately provocative language – maybe most other religions are not arrogant enough to believe they can get that close to god as to be in his image. I would have to do more research to see what other religions are around that believe people were created in the image of their god. I refuse to believe that Christianity is the only one given how much religions incorporate aspects of others into their beliefs.

    As a final point, in the passage you linked to god only ‘sees’ that it’s ‘good’ from the third day. I read verse 31 as referring to all six days work because a) it is a seperate statement unlike the other ‘good’s which are within or concatenated with the verses they are referring to; and b) since god is not making a seperate statement of goodness and he uses ‘all that he has made’. If we don’t take this view then the things he made on the first and second days, bar the light which he saw was good, are….rubbish?

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