Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Incarnation and the image of God

There's a lazy theological cliché that the imago Dei is what makes man unique. What sets us apart from the rest of creation. 

There's a grain of truth to that, or maybe more than a grain. In the creation account, man is said to be made in God's image–in contrast to all the other creatures (although angels don't figure in the creation account). 

Still, there's the risk of putting to much theological weight on that category. There's no exposition of the concept in Scripture. And in popular discourse, it's a catchall for whatever people like to think makes man distinctive. 

But that's just a segue to my primary point. The overemphasis on the imago Dei, which often functions as a theological shortcut, leads to the neglect of another distinctive. Of all the creatures in this world, including angels (who are our only rivals in the pecking order), God only became Incarnate as a human being. So the Incarnation is a singular tribute to human dignity. That's something else that sets us apart. God came down to our level, yet God had to make us at a certain level for that to be fitting. We had to be high enough in the hierarchy of creation for an Incarnation to suitable, to be the midpoint between the Creator and the creation. That's nothing to brag about. It's by virtue of how we were made, at or near the apex of creation, that the Incarnation lies at the median between the transcendent Deity and the immanent world. 

Ponder what it means that we have the capacity to relate to God at all. In that regard, compare animals to children. Animal intelligence ranges along a continuum. Many lower animals seem to be nothing more than machines with programming (very impressive all the same). Some insects have mysteriously complex behavior given the hardware. Same with bacteria. 

But even the smartest animals appear to have one-dimensional intelligence. By contrast, consider the budding intelligence of a child. Watch how their intelligence flowers at an early age. Even at that tender age, kids have three-dimensional intelligence, and it only deepens with maturation. 

By the same token, creatures must be at a certain threshold for an Incarnation to align. For that to operate in both directions. God relates to humans on our plane while we are able to relate to God, in our finite way. 

1 comment:

  1. This post is pregnant with intriguing philosophical theological ideas.

    On the one hand, angelic beings have far greater power and knowledge than we do. They're more like demigods in this respect. On the other hand, angelic beings won't ever know the love of God in Christ on the cross like the redeemed do, for there is no redemption for fallen angels, nor any need for redemption for unfallen angels. Perhaps that's what 1 Pet 1:12 has in mind.