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Made in the Icon of God

Posted by April Bumgardner on

In the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches icons are ubiquitous. The brightly colored, naive paintings of Jesus, Mary and the apostles, often depicting biblical stories or portraying theological concepts, are used in times of worship, prayer, and for educational or decorative purposes. They serve as representations to remind the worshipper of the glory of Jesus. Icons are not worshipped as “graven images” as in Old Testament-era idolatry, but are symbols of our created-ness by an all-powerful, all-loving God.

If icons represent the nature of Christ or the character of God, how much more so do we as his creation! As James 3:9 explains, we “have been made in God’s likeness” (icon, image).

Christ became human so we would have a picture of who God is, and also, so we might be able to reflect or emulate God to the world. When we see Jesus, we see God. For…”the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) By no means do we claim equality with God as Christ rightfully does, but God graciously created us to share in his likeness through our capacity and proclivity for relationship, creativity and love.

So, what applications do we take away from this little word icon that today we typically hear used in reference to a well-known public figure or a tiny symbol on our phones? What does it mean to be created in the icon, or likeness, of God? Perhaps it means we are social creatures in need of community. Is humanity’s diversity a direct reflection of God himself? Does the multiplicity of peoples give a hint of the richness of God’s nature?

Being made in God’s likeness means we are valuable. He approves of us. God loves us and created us full of dignity and purpose. (Ephesians 2:10)  We have the imprint of God upon us and bear something, albeit imperfectly, of his nature. We are all equally valuable. No one is born with less or more of God’s image. Often I read supposedly inspiring and sentimental stories of the mother who refused to abort her child, and in the end, he grows up to be a famed doctor or humanitarian, as if his later accomplishments were what justified his life. Yet, what if that baby weren’t an Einstein or our favorite Christian actor or athlete? What if he grew up to be a non-verbal man with severe physical needs? Someone who constantly battled crippling addictions? A woman with multiple disorders? Is she an inferior version of God’s image? Is she to be honored any less? She is still loved; she is still valued. She still represents the nature of God. We do not strive and achieve in order to represent God. Instead, we reflect the image of God because he created us so. We are icons of God, testifying to his good nature through our very breath and life. Incidentally, I wonder if the thought behind Peter’s and Paul’s “holy kiss” is partially in recognition and acknowledgement of the likeness of God in each of us. We honor God within us by honoring and accepting one another. 

When God created us, he proclaimed us to be good. He says we are like him.  We were not good for something or at something, but good simply because we bear his image. Bearing the likeness of God liberates us from all utilitarian views of humanity. We are not valuable because of what we contribute to society, but rather because we bear the imprint of our Creator.

So, how should we respond to one another? How can we honor the representation (the icon) of God in each one of us? We cannot honor God’s gracious nature, nor his body the church, if we are  searching for a person’s usefulness or contributions to society as a prerequisite. If we are honest, most of us are only average people aspiring to lead quiet, unimpressive lives of faithfulness. And that is all he asks us to be.

 

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

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