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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD

IN THE COURSE OF the year, several people have been asking me, why is it that in many of my published articles the Scriptural phrase, ‘In the image and likeness of God’ appears quite often (cf. Gen. 1:26-27)?

This is a timely moment to expound on it as we celebrate the ‘Incarnation of God’ at Christmas! And this will be based on both Scriptural and theological reflection. Wolfhart Pannenberg, a German theologian, through his reflection based on Christology from “below” through “Light experience” in “Jesus: God and Man,” made a significant contribution on the dignity of a person. For him, out of his personal understanding and experience, personal dignity flows from divine personal majesty and not vice versa. Therefore, to regain the concept of person it is necessary to go back to the beginning of creation. How do we speak of the relationship between God and human being? One of the ways is “I and Thou” relationship. Martin Buber and John Zizioulas have also expounded a lot on this. “Thou” is neither “I” nor “other.” “Thou” is a real part of self in the communion of “we.” “We” in the sense that I and the others around me make the “we.” That means, the “I” needs the “we” in order to be. And the “Thou” is actually the nexus of the “we.” “I am because we are.” “God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them … (Gen. 1:27-28). If, therefore, a person tries to understand himself without God, he or she is bound to fail because from that encounter human being is born. “Without the Creator, the creature vanishes” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 36).

It is only the personal being per excellence, God himself, can give personality to his creature when he is perceived as the ‘Thou” of that creature. Thus, “Created in God’s image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 31). In fact, we come to realise that not only is God the Thou of a human being but human being is also the thou of God. God sees himself in human beings to the point that in a certain moment of history decided to have a human being, Jesus Christ, who incarnated the Glory of God. And that is the whole essence of Christmas!

 The dignity of a human being comes from his being the thou of God. Each human being is unique, special and cannot be replaced. Each one is special and specially willed by God. Why? He is created in the image and likeness of God. He is the image of the uncreated Absolute. And He takes care of him (cf. Ps. 139). The relationship to the Absolute God makes of a human being a relative absolute in his being for God. It is the root of the personality of man. Therefore, dialogue with God takes place in dialogue with human beings. And when he is an isolated individual, man is lonely as an island. The only guarantee that ‘I am responding in love to God’ is the interpersonal created relationship. To see a man (human being) as a person is not just to look at him but also to be lost in wonder, to be surprised by the originality and profundity of his unique being: created absolute he is the image of uncreated Absolute. At this point, Anthropology meets Christology or rather Anthropology is an unrealised Christology. If, therefore, Christ is the Man par excellence of whom Adam was only a figure (cf. Rom. 5:14), and if the personal being of Christ is pure relationship to the Father, man will be all the more man in fulfilling his relationship with God in Christ; in the human thou is Sacrament of Christ.

 It is clear that the Scriptural text, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27), indicates a strong relationship between the two parties. To be is to be in a relationship. A community is necessary to grow in God’s image. We are an embodied subject and a historical subject. “Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness” (St. Augustine, Conf. 10).

 It is obvious that the ecological crisis is an indication of a deeper anthropological crisis, a moral crisis. It is the product of a precise conception of the secularised man who proclaimed himself master of nature and of his own destiny – a man wanting to take the place of the Absolute, his Creator, who created him in His own image and likeness. It is a misunderstanding and a misinterpretation of God’s statement, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Human being is given dominion over creation, but that has been corrupted by sin and has become domination instead of dominion. Otherwise, the desire for God is written in the human heart, because human being is created by God in His own “image and likeness”, and indeed, for God Himself. And, “God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God … For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence” (CCC, no. 27).

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves” (Gen. 1:26). This is a strong and powerful statement of God, of which we his creatures whom He has made in his own ‘image and likeness’ cannot ignore it or take it for granted since without the Creator, the creature vanishes!

-FR DR JAMES NGAHY, M. AFR.

jngahy@yahoo.com

 


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