Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a; Matthew 28:16-20
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
“In the Likeness of God”
At a recent Presbytery meeting during a discussion regarding an individual progressing toward becoming a Teaching Elder, there was an interesting exchange regarding the Trinity. When an individual first comes to the presbytery the review focuses on their spiritual journey rather than their theology. So, someone asked the individual to expand on their understanding of the Trinity. Since that was a theology question the moderator said the question that should be answered is, “How does your understanding of the Trinity affect your journey of faith?” That started me thinking.
I really don’t imagine that we wake up every morning wondering how the Trinity will affect our life that day. However, we often consider the presence of God and how our lives are being guided by our relationship to God. Today I would suggest that our understanding of the Triune God gives us a better understanding of the intimate relationship that we have with God.
We read in the Genesis passage that we are made in the image of God, “Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us . . . God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”
I can assure you that when we think of being in relationship with another human we certainly are glad that we are like them. Let me tell you of a miracle that my Pastor in Bayfield experienced. Brian and Sherry were wanting another child to join their son, Zane, but were having difficulty. Sherry had a couple of miscarriages. When she became pregnant again, they were of course very concerned. She was closely monitored by the doctors. About six months into her pregnancy, Sherry appeared to be aborting again. Everyone who knew Brian and Sherry began to pray. Sherry was confined to bed. At the proper time, they welcomed their baby girl. Brian was certain it was a miracle and reflected that faith in their baby girl’s name. You have heard the song, Kyrie Eleison, which means Mercy of the Lord. This title comes from two Greek words, kurios or feminine kuria and elios or the feminine elia. The parents wanted to reflect the Lord’s mercy in the birth of their daughter, but wanted an acceptable handle for her to carry around with her. Her name is Kyra Allison, but all their friends know that she was a miracle due to the Lord’s Mercy. And talk about, in her mother’s image, sometime Sherry puts Kyra’s picture on her Facebook and you would think it was a childhood picture of Sherry. In addition, I am happy to report that on June 8, 2014, Brian and Sherry’s third child Wyatt was Baptized. And everyone says that Wyatt is a spitting image of Brian.
Now to consider the significance of being in the image of God. First, what or who is referred to by the plural pronouns “let us” and “our image and our likeness”? Second, what is the significance of the terms “image” and “likeness” for understanding the unique place of human life in the divine scheme of creation? How can the author claim that humankind corresponds to God? Today we rejoice in the revelation of the Holy Trinity. It is upon this reality that Christianity is built. One of the most radical revelations of Jesus is that God is in community, that we are made in God’s image and likeness, and that in Christ we are to become like God. God is Three Persons, a community of Persons that exists in love. Love is the inner nature of God, love is the life of heaven, and love is what we are called to live here on earth.
Renowned Theologian Karl Barth interpreted human “image” not as “anything God is or does” but as the relationship or interactive dialogue of “man to man.” The image of God does not exist in what we are but rather what we do—creating relationships with both our male and female counterparts and the Creator of the universe. Barth is emphasizing the relationship with God as depicted in the phrase “let us.” Relationship is the key word – we are in community with God. Humans display the likeness of God when they are in relationship with both God and people.
Calvin’s approach was that the image could only be understood by looking back from the New Testament. He contended that only from the New Testament could the original meaning of the “image” in Genesis be discovered since in Christ that perfect “image” is restored in the Christian believer. This belief in the Holy Trinity rests upon Christ’s life and is found in His continual references to His Father in heaven and to the Spirit of God.
What does it all mean for you and me in our everyday living? Well, it means that our lives are geared to be relational. We find ourselves through our close relationships with others. We discover the meaning of life when we love others and when we particularly love a significant other for life. Our problems in seeing ourselves, our identity problems, are solved when we find ourselves in a communion with others, one that allows us to be who we really are.
We give thanks always and everywhere because God is more than solitary. We praise God because of the union of Persons who are absolutely in love and in total union with each other. What a blessing that we have, to be part of the loving relationship within the triune God! This is clearly a blessing. What a contrast to living for self! If you lived just with yourself and for yourself, life would be horrible.
For a moment think about what if we were alone. That definitely would be a miserable existence. In the Air Force, there is a special overseas tour called isolated duty. What a term! It sounds like solitary confinement. However, my isolated duty wasn’t quite solitary, it was Base Operations Officer at Thule, Greenland. Thule is 800 miles south of the North Pole. That puts it in latitude about 800 miles north of the latitude that goes through Point Barrows Alaska, which you may be more familiar with. Although, I was not completely alone, I was separated from family and friends. In my assignment, I was Search and Rescue Officer for any aircraft that should crash land near the North Pole. Flights from Europe generally fly what is called a great circle route rather than following a specific latitude, since it is shorter. That takes them near the North Pole or at least over parts of Greenland. One morning about 5:30 I received a call that a tourist plane had made a crash landing near the North Pole. You see the tour companies fly folks in small aircraft for an exorbitant fee, so they can claim to have flown over the North Pole. The call came in, that eight souls were stranded on the ice near the North Pole. What a feeling of isolation and despair, that must have been! Can you imagine being placed in a spot from which there was no way out? The tourist aircraft did not actually crash, but landed on what they thought was solid ice. They try to find a crack in the ice that has become smooth and refrozen to make a landing. However, in this case they misjudged, landed on thin ice, and the plane began to sink. We flew a large aircraft up to drop sleeping bags and warm blankets to keep them until they could be rescued. While the plane was hovering over the area, another tourist plane landed successfully, and the eight souls walked about a mile on the solid ice and were rescued.
Have you ever been alone to the point of despair? In the reading from Matthew the Trinity is clearly depicted, and is a comfort for those who feel alone. Matthew explains the complete togetherness and loyalty of Jesus in what he has brought and done as he acts on behalf of the Triune God. Here we have reference to ‘the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. We think of them as sharing one name? The use of the singular ‘the name,’ is a clear reference to the divine name. In Matthew God is ‘Father’ almost as often as called ‘God.’ Jesus is ‘Son’ or ‘Son of God’ with ‘Son’ as the central Christological title for him. In addition, Matthew uses ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit’, but mostly uses ‘the Holy Spirit.’ It is clear throughout the Gospel of Matthew that the persons of the Trinity are completely involved in all of Jesus’ activity.
Now at the end, Matthew sums up his own narrative and identifies the significance of his chief character by speaking of Jesus as the Son in relation to the Father and as closely linked with the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s story has been about the action of the Father through the Son and by means of the Holy Spirit. And that is what the baptized are joined to.
This passage of Scripture teaches that knowing God as three in one should be at the center of our daily relationship with him. Another and much more important aspect is that Jesus’ teachings about the Holy Trinity allow us to begin to participate in the life of God. When we become more like God in the way we live with others, then God’s presence, power, and love are made all that
much more real for those who live around us.
Loving others, you see, isn’t something that’s simply nice – it is essential; it is of the essence of being one with Christ. It is only in love and in deep relationships with others that we can understand what John is talking about when he says that God is love and he who loves has found God, and God lives in him.
Jesus told us that heaven begins here on earth, that the kingdom of heaven is here, among you. The life of God begins to be experienced here. Heaven isn’t just the reward at the end of a road of pain, trial, and suffering. Heaven begins when we discover ourselves, when we discover each other, when we begin to live a Trinitarian life with others. As John Calvin declared, the “image” of God in Genesis is revealed in Christ – that perfect “image,” is restored in the Christian believer. We are admonished in Colossians 3:10, to “put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.” and in Ephesians 4:24, “clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.”
In the words of Henri Nouwen, i
When we think about Jesus as that exceptional, unusual person who lived long ago and whose life and words continue to inspire us, we might avoid the realization that Jesus wants us to be like him. Jesus himself keeps saying in many ways that he, the Beloved Child of God, came to reveal to us that we too are God’s beloved children, loved with the same unconditional divine love. John writes to his people: “You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children – which is what we are.” (1 John 3:1). This is the great challenge of the spiritual life: to claim the identity of Jesus for ourselves and to say: “We are the living Christ today!” Amen.
i Nouwen, Henri J.M. “Claiming the Identity of Jesus” from Bread for the Journey.