11 aspects of being made in the image of God

Here are 11 things the early chapters of the Bible say about being made in the image of God. they all depend on God being prior, above and qualitatively different. THE primary distinction is that he is Creator and this is his creation in which we are his creatures. we are by God, for God and in the image of God. This fundamental separation is the ground of all Christian understanding of identity, meaning and morality

  • Twofold variety, a community of love. In his image God created a BINITY, reflecting the Trinity, unlike the teeming animals

  • Speaking. God speaks, calls, self-discloses. So do they

  • Rule as vice-regents under God

  • Creativity / separating / taxonomy. God makes things by kinds and calls them and separates them. He invites Adam to name things, thus doing the kind of things God does, as a child with their parent

  • Walking with God

  • Dependency on God rather than autonomy from him. Being God-centred

  • Work. God works, he gives us work

  • Innocence

  • Honour

  • Beauty

  • Poetry / speaking exultant words

There are plenty of things that being made in the image of God is not. Theologians like to talk about God’s “incommunicable attributes” - things he does not give to others. We are called to be like him in his holiness but not in his omniscience, for example. Four things that are clear at the start of Genesis that being made in him image does not mean:

  • Moral equivalence to God or being moral agents independent of him

  • The right to be arbiters of good and evil

  • The right to be God. The great twisting of Satan was to take being made in the image of God and use it to tempt to want to grasp godhood

  • That we are just like the other creatures

Notes for mentoring someone in Christian work

Anyone who does something a lot internalises the processes that stand behind their actions. They act by instinct and long-learned habit and its important that they do. If I need urgent, life-saving medical help I don’t want the doctor to have to stop to consult the manual

Sometimes, however, there are helpful reasons to stop and consider our habitual practice. Two spring to mind: first to see if, on reflection, there are ways to improve and, second, in order to be able to teach others how to do what we do instinctively

One of the things I get to do a lot of is mentor people in Christian work. I know what to do instinctively through long practice. But the other day, as part of reorganising some documents I thought it would be a good idea to joy a quick proforma down to bring a bit more structure to my mentoring notes and then thought that someone else might find it helpful.
Good note-taking in order to be able to encourage a person further on down the line is simply part of honouring and loving them well

You can find the document here

A few points to bear in mind:

  • It is very much “notes to self” rather than a professional proforma. There are probably such things available that will help you do a better job than this but I haven’t looked hard

  • This is to help me mentor someone. That is, to help them reflect on their life and practise of ministry

  • The exploratory questions are not the be all and end all, just a few categories to help prod a conversation along

  • It is not the same as the notes I would make when discipling or coaching someone

Taming Ministry Chaos

This is a very quick and superficial response to a question I received on Twitter about the kind of systems and structures that someone in Christian work can use to tame the chaos that frequently accompanies it. Others have written more at length, but the below gives and indication of the things I find helpful

I hope someone finds something useful from the thought I have had to give to this for my own use over the years. Mainly I hope you will read this and take comfort from the fact that you are far more organised and far less of a basket case than I am, and don’t need to do any of it because you find it so blindingly obvious

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Instagramming Your Dinner?: 1 Timothy 4

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity... Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them so that everyone may see your progress   (1 Tim 4:12; 15)

Paul's instruction to Timothy is well-known. It was written to teach him how to live and to lead as a role model leader when people were looking down on him with condescension because he was young. There is little designed to get a young Christian leader's back up more than people assuming youth = immaturity: "but you're so young." Lacking the insight and wisdom that comes with age and experience is one thing. Assuming that godly young leaders can't lead, teach, preach, evangelise or draw others together to advance the Kingdom is something else and often incorrect. But Paul's instruction to Timothy wasn't to ignore presumptuous or patronising comments about youth, but to set an example. Role models are as role models do.

I got into conversation with someone who was desperate for more transparent authenticity from church leaders. "I want to be able to see their lives. So I know how to follow Christ with my life and so I can see how the gospel works out in their lives in reality." That's a good thing to want. "After all Paul tells Timothy to set an example in his life and let everyone see his progress." It's hard to argue with that.

But what should this look like in a social media age where expectations and definitions of authenticity are running riotously out of control?

The panopticon prison was design in the 18th century. It had cells round a circle or semi-circle with a guard post in the middle. It allowed maximum surveillance by a minimum number of people and is now widely criticised as inhumane because of the power and humiliation that go with being on display, having your every action constantly monitored. But now we have gone way beyond the panopticon. Not only do we accept observation of every area of life as normal but now we display ourselves entirely voluntarily to a degree never before known. A sizeable proportion of the social media savvy equate willingness to put yourself on display with authenticity. Discretion is fast becoming a discredited virtue and privacy confused with secrecy or worse. Unwillingness to display oneself can be perceived as inauthentic at best and suspicious at worst.

How should we think about letting people see our lives in an age when "authenticity" is too easily confused for instagramming what you are having for dinner and vlogging from your bedroom? We should distinguish carefully between:

  • becoming a role model (usually a bad one) BY putting yourself on display and encouraging everyone to copy you, and;
  • being a role model, who by dint of certain characteristics of your life ought to be at least partly visible so that others know how to live in a godly way and can copy you

The second of these is worthy of display, the first is just bragging and self-publicising, the new way of social climbing.

What should godly role models display of their lives. Whatever it is, according to Paul, it is with the purpose that people will see their progress in the faith and be encouraged to emulate them. It is unlikely, therefore, to include instagramming dinner. Or instagramming very much, probably. It will certainly include:

  • how we deal with life circumstances and events in Christ-centred and godly ways so people can see how the our new identity and the good news affects our responses to what life throws our way
  • a degree of public exposure about how we repent of sin and walk in faith. If leaders are not chief repenters how is anyone else meant to know how to do it? They'll just assume leaders are perfect. Or, more likely, inauthentic shams. And definitely not to be emulated either way
  • how we identify the need for change and growth in our lives and take steps to do it. Timothy was told to let people see not just his godliness but his progress - that he was growing. Of course that implies being straightforward that nobody is the finished article
  • our eagerness to serve as opposed to lording it over others (of which online self-publicity is an insidious new form)
  • how we are learning to grow in Christlikeness and yearning for the fruit of righteousness in our lives

Its notoriously hard to teach about humility or to point to evidences of how we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit. You might almost say that anyone who is tempted to display on social media how they are growing in these areas quite possibly isn't! People may see those things in a person but that person can't tell them that they experience growth without calling that growth into question. People have to see our lives and that simply can't happen through the self-curated presentation that is social media. There is role-modelling that happens through personal relationship that simply cannot happen through Twitter or Facebook (and perhaps also in churches so large that almost nobody can know anything about the lives of those who lead).

The Apostle Peter instructs us to humble ourselves before God and clothe ourselves with humility (1 Peter 5). Those who do are likely to turn into contagiously godly role models. Their churches will know it, their friends will see their. But they themselves are unlikely to be forthright about their progress. It is caught by being around them and witnessing it, not by them parading their humble clothing.

And they are very unlikely to display themselves much on Instagram.

Truth, Power, Love, Hate - and Social Media and Elections

Violence is what happens when you try to resolve a religious dispute by means of power. It cannot be done. Trying to resolve ultimate issues of faith, truth and interpretation by use of force is a conceptual error of the most fundamental kind. Just as might does not establish right, so victory does not establish truth

You cannot impose truth by force…greater is the pursuit of truth than the exercise of force
Religion leads to violence when it consecrates hate…You cannot create a free society on the basis of hate

Do not wage war on the children of darkness. Make sure instead that you and your children are sources of light

The above quotes are not from a Christian (though they could easily be) but from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ wonderful book Not In God’s Name. A book I thoroughly recommend. 

Rabbi Sacks’ sets out to analyze specifically religious violence but just about everything he says is relevant to any situation where force is used to impose someone’s idea of truth. His conclusion (correctly to my mind) is that it always fails and always will fail because of the most basic conceptual mistake: truth is not amenable to imposition by force. The results are firstly, bitterness at being thus assaulted; second, what he describes as the consecration of hate - people mostly behave as enemies because they perceive themselves to have been made enemies of, and; third countermeasures by those imposed upon, force is met by force, perception of being hatefully treated by hatred.

His almost shocking conclusion is that the only way out of the cycle is powerlessness. On the subject of religious violence to deliberately separate out religion (truth) and politics (power).

Sacks has, I think, a rather Utopian view of the neutrality of the state:

The liberal democratic state does not aspire to be the embodiment of the good, the beautiful and the true. It merely seeks to keep the peace between contending factions. It is procedural rather than substantive. It makes no claim to represent the totality of life…It does not invtie its citizens to worship the polis, nor does it see civic virtue as the only virtue. (NIGN p.229)

One might reasonably ask what happens when the state is perceived by one party or another to have been hijacked precisely to make universalising and substantive claims on all. Law will be used to impose a state-authorised morality and civic virtue will indeed be seen as the only virtue (”fundamental British values” being an obvious case in point). When that happens the state has ceased to be an arbiter and itself become a contending faction. 

But that aside, what of his contention that powerlessness is the way out of the standoff? His suggestion that the house of study must replace the battlefield? The best picture of a standoff with power is the cold war nuclear threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The problem of course is that nobody can be the first to disarm because that makes you a defenceless target. Why wouldn’t the other person simply destroy you? But to not do so leaves you with perpetual heightened tension with no way out. 

Catch 22. But you have to admit a very Christian Catch 22. We follow one who refused to retaliate to the point of his own life being taken for the sake of his enemies. And who insists that his followers do likewise. Retaliation is what non-Christians do, not Christians:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well;    (Matthew 5:38-40)

Jesus had a principled willingness to be walked over.

But what about the recent US election? I suggested in my previous post that this is an election in which for many young voter social media has played a significant, but not healthy, part. In Rabbi Sacks’ terms I think that limiting access only to views that you already agree with is like turning the house of study back into the battlefield. If religion can consecrate hate that leads to violence then so can Twitter - just read the comments on many politicians’ Twitter feeds if you are in any doubt about that. 

Truth is not established by by force. Facebook might not look like a means for exerting force - it isn’t a battle fleet - but by dint of having 1.79 billion users it is precisely that. And in that way people have tried to use it: to deny the face of the Other, make substantive moral claims which it is hoped would be assimilated by the state. The use of social media to disrupt the neutrality of the state, turn it into a competing party and then use it to impose views by force on the unwilling. 

How should Christians respond? I suggest Rabbi Sacks is right - embrace powerlessness. The thing we must not do is fight with the same weapons. The Apostle Paul tells us that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil. Peter says:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Be willing to be powerless in this world’s terms. And don’t use the weapons of the world, instead do good. I am suggesting that social media is definitely a weapon of the world and Christians must avoid at all costs using it the way the world uses it. That might be by simply deleting the app and having nothing to do with it if you can’t be self-controlled in the way you use it. It might mean that you deliberately follow the feeds of people with whom you disagree so that you are not inadvertantly sucked into the way it can shut down competing voices and debate. It might mean you use it as deliberately as you are able to bless those with whom you disagree. It definitely means not saying anything online that you wouldn’t say with the Lord Jesus in the room.

No, we commit to the word of God (that’s our weapon, the sword of the Spirit, we are people of the book not the Twitterstorm, still less the riot), to prayer - including for our enemies for them to be blessed - and to doing good. The Christian question for election outcomes we don’t like is not “how can I push back?” but “given this situation how can I bless for the good of society and the sake of the Lord Jesus? Given this outcome, what is the most redemptive way for me to behave? How can I bless my opponents? How can I avoid being swept up in a tide of sentiment and dismay and instead be self-controlled, loving and kind, full of the fruit of the Spirit?”

The danger of the social media election is that it makes everyone, both before and afterwards, ask the wrong questions: how can my group win? How can we dominate the state? How can we use its laws and constitution for the good of us and the detriment of the Other? The Christian instead will always ask, how do we bless the Other, how do we serve not dominate, what does kindness, love and the redemption of God look like in a  world full of hate?

Jesus called his disciples together and said:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28)