Reading becomes so familiar and casual that we sometimes don’t reflect on the deeper meaning contained in words. The Sacred Scriptures, early writings of the Church Fathers, and subsequent Cistercian writers, such as the late Dom Andre Louf, O.C.S.O., are not just to be read but to be assimilated into oneself to form a Way of Living.
One phrase I have always had a problem understanding is “humans are made in the image and likeness of God.” Okay. I read it with the experiences I have had at the time of my reading it. Because I have now grown more in how to penetrate and delve deeper not only into the meaning of words but the context in which they were formulated long ago, in some cases, I see more now and can put together linkages I never imagined before. That is being human.
What does it mean to say humans are made in God’s image and likeness? God has an image in the Book of Genesis called anthropomorphic representation, because the author’s only way to describe what it means to be human and how we got ourselves into the mess we find our nature is to tell a story. Actually, God is divine in nature and has no human image or likeness. To be made in God’s image and likeness must mean something deeper, a meaning more profound than just the words suggest. Is God’s image and likeness a human one, and so God must look like a human? If God is NOT our image and likeness, how can we be made in the image and likeness of something that doesn’t exist, at least using human concepts?
My thoughts are that we are made in God’s image and likeness, but it is not human in likeness and image that is meant here. Remember, the authors, like any of us, write words, but in this case, they are inspired by God and contain a deeper meaning for us to discover at a later time. Genesis speaks of God’s image and likeness and humans being made with those characteristics.
THE IMAGE OF GOD IS DIVINE
The image of God, who does not have an image like a face or body, must have a deeper meaning. It means that God’s image has one nature and three distinct persons, the Trinity. Think about it. What does God look like? This is the template for an image where three persons exist as one, pure knowledge (the Father), pure Love (the Son), and pure service (the Holy Spirit.) The purpose of life itself is to know, love, and serve God in this world so that we can be happy together in the next. (Baltimore Catechisms, Question 6). God’s image is described in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36. When it says we are made in the image of God, it means we humans have, at our core, the potential to know what it means to be human, the potential to know what it means to love, and have the opportunity to be Christ-entered rather than self-centered. It means that the image of God is the Trinity, made human in our nature through, with, and in Jesus. It means we have the DNA of God in us. We don’t just get this DNA in us without the next part, the likeness of God. The Trinity is the template for how humans move from mere humanity to a deeper level of nature, to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with God in the next. The Father provides THE LIFE for each of us; The Son provides THE WAY for each of us to walk through the minefield of original sin without it exploding in our faces; the Holy Spirit is THE TRUTH that, when we sit patiently on a park bench in the middle of winter and wait, we find what we seek sitting next to us. Humans can only approach God through our intermediary, Jesus, who is the one who gives us life while on earth and fulfill our humanity when we reach heaven.
THE LIKENESS OF GOD
We are said to be made in the image and likeness of God. Yet, we are nothing like God, even remotely. The comparison is only meaningful when we look deeper into the likeness of God and ask some questions. Humans, by their own reasoning, are incapable of understanding, knowing, loving, and serving as God intended. To do that takes an act of free will, one which goes to the very essence of who God is (granted, I am just using human reasoning for this), and that is found in the Creed we recite every Sunday. God is one but the Father and Son love each other (filioque), and what proceeds from that is the Holy Spirit. This, as I have discovered in my Lectio Divina, is the likeness of God (realizing, again, all of this is so much straw compared to what God actually is). Am I correct? I hope so.
What I have also realized is that The Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, are the archetype, not just the type for this trait for all humanity, whether people realize it or not. Faith is that added dimension of reality we receive at Baptism when God adopts us as adopted sons and daughters and, as such, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. God even sent his only Son, Jesus, to not only tell us (The Old Testament prophesies) but show us (the fulfillment of all prophecies and the empowerment of the Church to facilitate each individual human to fulfill their humanity by being able to rise above their human nature to its highest level possible. Mary is an example of what the Holy Spirit can do for all of us. Saint Joesph is the patron of the Church and the example of how the family is the paradigm of the likeness of God. Joseph loves Mary and, in humility and obedience, accepts the will of God to be the foster father of the Christ. The Holy Spirit overshadows Mary with the full love of God, and her cup of humanity is filled so much, not a drop more can it hold without running over. Mary is an example for us of heaven on earth. Mary’s human nature is unlike any before or since. She is literally what we will become in Heaven. Jesus is the product of the Holy Family, both divine and human in nature, nurtured and schooled in how to love, what is most important in life, and how to be fully human. The family is the template for the likeness of God.
That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict