It’s been more than a while since I posted.
There have been very good reasons. College life has been busy with the end of semester time. The amidst all that we had a tragic event, with the suicide of one of our students.
For me this came at a time when I was happily working on a paper for a conference (to which I am going, today, in Africa!), but most other staff were not around.
Handling the trauma, and the grief, and experiencing both of these myself as well, has been a big thing.
But writing a paper of ‘the image of God in human beings’ during all that is something else.
It brings me, amidst the fog and the tears, to make a few reflections.
(But after this, I will need to leave off from blogging for a little while!)
My paper is called ‘Imago Dei: recovering from the modernist misreading’.
This is saying, basically, that the Enlightenment has so shaped our thinking that we have largely and indeed dangerously misread the meaning of the idea ‘imago dei’, the image of God in human beings.
My paper says there are four key features of the modernist misreading:
It is essentialist: following the philosophy of Plato, we look for some ‘essence’, some inherent thing or element, which is the image of God. There have been lots of suggestions, the most common of them our reason.
It is individualist: and this is perhaps the most pervasive and pernicious of modernity’s legacies. Sadly, this aspect has been adopted by theology, especially in our understandings of ‘individual salvation.’
Third, it is human centred, claiming that imago dei means that all else in creation exists for us.
Finally, it is historicist, imagining that the image of God is something which somehow once was true of us, it existed in the past, even if now it is lost or shattered.
Then my paper moves to an exploration of biblical re-reading, which provides resources for a radically different perspective. Michael Welker, on Genesis, and Brueggemann and later Pannenberg, Volf and Grenz all help us to reclaim the communal understanding of human life, and God’s salvation. But more than that we find that humans are co-creators, and co-creatures, and that ‘dominion’ is not exclusive to humans. Other creatures are also given dominion, in Genesis 1.
We come to see that imago dei is not a key theme throughout the bible, but what we find instead in the New Testament is the idea of imago Christi: that Christ is the image of God, into which we are called, as our destiny and hope in Christ. Rather than something we have lost, it is that which is promised, our hope.
There is scope then for recovery: humans do not have some ‘essence’, as individuals, but together we have a calling, a collective hope of life with God. This helps us to know our place, and thus to work with God in the recovery, healing and nurture of the creation.
For me, these are exciting ideas. It has been really affirming to be able to work on all this (but also out of necessity) amidst the awful mess of this tragedy. I guess this is what ministry is like, but indeed this also is what life is like, everyday, for so many people elsewhere in the world.
They really know about these things, and they are inspiring in their hope.
I’m looking forward to meeting and knowing some more of them, in Ghana.
Whoever reads this post: best wishes to you! Let us live into the fulness of life, as God’s creatures, with all God’s creation.