Thursday, June 28, 2018

Creativity and God’s Image

We find one of the Bible’s most intriguing statements in its very first chapter: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…'” (Genesis 1:26). So few words; so much substance.

The possessive pronoun, “our,” referring to the Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit, has prompted countless books as theologians and authors seek to plumb the Trinity’s unfathomable depths with hopelessly limited human understanding. But that’s not my focus.

God's creation, combined with
"re-creation" in His image.
What in the world does “in our image, in our likeness” mean? Is it saying God has two eyes, two arms, two legs, two feet, etc.? I doubt you could find any Bible scholars in their right mind who believe that. Then what’s it mean?

I don’t claim to be an absolute authority, but I’ve thought a lot about being made “in His image," and have reached some conclusions that seem helpful. Think of a portrait, or quality photograph of someone. The image in that piece of art or photo isn’t the real person, but in some ways serves as a visual representation of that individual. 

When we look in a mirror, we again see an image – a reflection – of ourselves, even though what we see isn’t the actual person. It shows a perspective of our external self, but doesn’t show all of us. We can see our innermost being, especially thoughts, beliefs and motivations.

In demonstrating love, compassion, joy, generosity, mercy, reasoning, and many of other virtues, we “image bearers” display attributes of God, albeit imperfectly and incompletely.

Let’s look at just one of these divine attributes: Creativity. The first verse in the Scriptures tells us, “In the beginning, God created…” (Genesis 1:1). His first act involving our physical world was to create it. As His human image bearers, we can observe and participate in creativity in many areas of life – art, literature, fashion, construction, even the design of cereal boxes. 

There is one important difference, however. We must “create” using ideas and materials that already exist. God created out of absolute nothing, what theologians term ex nihilo. No less a personage than Walt Disney confirmed this years ago.

My late friend, Bob Foster, owned a popular dude ranch in Colorado Springs, Colo., and one year Disney was among his guests. As the two of them sat on a porch outside the main cabin, admiring the mountains, majestic pine trees and other natural wonders of God’s creation, Disney made a wise observation. He commented that while God engaged in creation, his job was “re-creation,” recognizing whether it was color, sound, concepts or physical structures, everything “Disney” came from things readily available. He never truly created anything.

Thinking about being in the image of God, there’s no greater example than Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:4 tells us, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….” Limiting Himself to human form, Jesus became all we needed to know about God, even though because of physical constraints, Jesus did not reveal all of God there is to know.

I like how Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey phrased it in their excellent book, In His Image, in which Brand the physician utilizes his knowledge of the human body to draw spiritual parallels. They write that Jesus became “the finite, visible expression of the infinite, invisible, inexpressible God.”

And yet, we still have the privilege of representing God’s image, of being His “ambassadors,” as 2 Corinthians 5:20 states it. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” This passage does not use the word “image bearers” or “in His image,” but just as ambassadors are imbued with the authority to represent their nations, we too are called to accurately represent our God.  

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