The Tenth Day of Christmas Advent. Christ Comes to Restore the Image.
Human beings, male and female, are made in the image and according to the likeness of God.1 This is a fundamental doctrine of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It means that we humans are not simply the product of our heredity and environment, of our biological makeup and genetic construction. Neither are we simply the result of some accidental combination of physical particles and material cells, nor merely the outcome of historical processes, economic systems, and sociological configurations. Our lives do not consist in the amount of our possessions, our will to power, our educational opportunities, or our sexual drives and satisfactions. All of these, and many other factors are important in peoples’ lives, even critical, but they are not what make us human. We human beings are human because our fundamental and essential property is to be the most perfect created expressions of God’s being and life. We are made to be “imitators of God” and “partakers of the divine nature” (Eph 5:1; 2 Pet 1:4).
To be made in the image and likeness of God is to be both a spiritual and material being. It is to be personal, free, self-determining, and self-aware. It is to be able to know and to do good, to be able to act and to care. It is to be capable of governing and cultivating, creating and ruling. It is, in a word, as all of the Orthodox Christian saints have taught, to be able to be by God’s grace and good will absolutely everything that God Himself is by nature.
God is a living God, and we are made also to live. God is good, and we are made to be good. God is wise, and we are made to be wise. God is peaceful and joyful, kind and compassionate, powerful and gentle-and that is the way that we too are to be. God lives forever and never dies, and we also are made to be immortal. God governs all that He has made, and we, the creatures made in His image and likeness, are made to care for His creation. We can carry the connections on endlessly; they apply in every case. Whatever God is, we are made by Him to become. And most important of all, and that which contains all specific and particular elements: God is Love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). And we His creatures are made by Him also to be Love. We are made to love as He loves. To love all things which He loves. And to love Him first of all.
The cause of all sadness and sorrow is that human beings have failed to be-and therefore endlessly to become-what God has made them to be. In the ultimate sense, they have failed to love. This is the meaning of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Bible. Human ‘beings use their godlike natures and employ their godlike energies for evil instead of good, for lies instead of truth, for destruction instead of creation, for death instead of life. They corrupt their being, distorting the divine image within them and losing their likeness to God.2
Orthodox Christians affirm that Jesus Christ has come to restore God’s image and likeness in human beings. He enabled them to be what they were created to be in the beginning. Jesus does this, not simply because He is God’s only-begotten Son and Word, but because He is also “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4).3 Those who see Jesus, as He Himself has said, see God the Father.
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn 14:8-9)
Christ restores the image of God in human beings, being Himself God’s uncreated and eternal image, by becoming a real human being, the “last” and “final” Adam, the “man from heaven.”
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:45-49)
As the second and final Adam, Jesus does everything that the first and original Adam was called-but failed-to do. He obeys God. He honors His Name. He delights in His Presence. He adores His Divinity. He gives thanks for His gifts. He speaks His words. He does His works. He accomplishes His will. And so He fulfills Himself in a human manner as one made in God’s image and likeness. But being the Son of God Himself, God’s uncreated Image and Word; His accomplishment extends to all human beings and is made fully and freely available to all people. “For as in Adam all die so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15: 22). For Adam himself was but “a type of the One who was to come” (Rom 5: 14). This is Jesus.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of righteousness brings life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom 5: 15-17)
This is the message of Christmas. There is a new Adam. There is a restored image of God. It is the restored image of the Image Himself, God’s Son and Word, Jesus Christ. In Him humankind has found its fulfillment and perfection. In Him human beings can live. In Him all people can complete themselves as creatures made to be by God’s grace all that God Himself is by nature. In Him all people can be human.
~Adapted from Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season
1 See Gen 1: 26·27; 5: 1-2.
2 Some Orthodox writers, including some of the Church fathers like Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Maximus the Confessor, make a distinction between image and likeness. They say that God’s image in man is what is given and can never be destroyed, and that God’s likeness in man is what must be nurtured and developed, or else it will be lost. This distinction is not always followed. Some Church fathers, like Saint Athanasius the Great, do not make it, but use image and likeness synonymously. The Church’s liturgy tends to follow the biblical and Athanasian practice and does not make a fine distinction between the two terms. Whatever the use of terms, however, it should be noted that the substantial teaching is the same.
3 In the RSV translation of the Bible, Col 1: 15 reads, “He (the beloved Son] is the image of the invisible God; and 2 Cor 4:4 reads, “Christ, who is the likeness of God.” In both cases in Greek, however, the word for image and likeness is the same: ikon, from which we get the English word “icon.”