[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.
Some of the designs here are amazing. There is such a wealth of creativity on display here, and I have to admit a lot of respect for the people who come up with these great ideas. But…
OK, take these T-shirts. These are great looking T-shirts. I would even think about wearing one of those, and I’m notorious for my no-branding clothing stance… But, well, they’re advertising a church!
Why do you need a T-shirt for your church? What does that say? “Look at me! I go to the cool church that makes great T-shits!” Huh?!?
I’m really pulled in two directions over this stuff. I know we live in a visual culture, where brands and image are dominant. And churches are often, well, pretty crappy at presenting themselves in a catchy, visual manner (check out my own churches website if you don’t believe me). So part of me likes the craftsmanship that has gone into these images (and the many, many more in the pool), and appreciates the effort that the churches concerned are making to reach out into the world around them…
I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with the idea of churches as being brands you market, especially not competing brands. “My church is cooler than your church” is a really dangerous sentiment; we are meant to be one body, after all. It also commodifies church too much; buying into wider societal norms more than I’m comfortable with. Why do we need ‘Christian’ T-shirts and CCM artists anyway?
I don’t know how to resolve this particular tug-of-war… Perhaps you have an opinion that could sway me either way?