In His Image

Image Manipulation
Image by Str1ke via Flickr

We were at church, waiting…me, in line for Confession, the children, in the pews, waiting for me. The older two sat quietly reading, but Nicholas wanted to explore: up to the front, back to me, wanting a hug and a snuggle. Off to press his nose against stained glass window…then back to me, for more cuddles. Testing independence, seeking reassurance.

I pulled him onto my lap and closed my eyes, nuzzling his skin, no longer as soft as it once was, yet still so chewable. He tipped his head back against my face and stared up at the ceiling. Whispered, “Wights, Mommy.” I opened my eyes. My child filled up my vision, too close to focus, a fuzzy compilation of long dark lashes gleaming in incandescent light, soulful brown eyes, and perfect skin.

This, I thought. This is the image of God.

In last Sunday’s reading, we heard the Pharisees asking if Jews were obligated to pay taxes. Our associate pastor invoked Jesus’s words: “Whose image is on the coin?” Caesar’s, of course. “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

It had never struck me before: if the image on the coin made that coin the property of Caesar, and if we are made in the image of God…well, that changes everything, doesn’t it?

This concept has caused so much misunderstanding. We get to thinking in physical terms: eyes, nose, mouth, body. And that leads to all kinds of complicated, unnecessary theological snarls. Masculine vs. feminine image of the divine. Forgetting that we are made in God’s image, not the other way around. Assigning God our own political, social or philosophical views. Claiming God is “on our side” in whatever conflict it may be.

It was my mother who first opened my mind to think of it differently. No, no, she said. It’s our souls that are made in God’s image. Not our bodies.

It’s so simple…and it changes everything. Because if it is my soul that is “in God’s image,” and if that soul belongs to God, then everything I do should reflect that. How I act toward spouse, parents, friends, coworkers, children, and random annoying drivers who drive too fast/too slow/cut me off/don’t move over/miss the light change because they’re texting.

It’s not our bodies that are made in God’s image, and yet it is with our bodies that we have the chance to reflect God. And that makes them so profoundly holy. In everything we do, we’re called to reflect the complete self-giving, creative love that brought all Creation into being.

This is the source of my Church’s much-maligned teaching on contraception, but it goes so much farther than that. I wonder, if we thought of ourselves this way, if many of the chronic problems that plague western society would disappear…or at least, downgrade from epidemic to oddity. Gluttony, lack of self-control—in food or entertainment, or any other area—addiction…the search for fulfillment through pursuit of the ephemeral.

I know that it’s not that simple, that many self-destructive behaviors become compulsive, that addiction isn’t something you can just turn off by self-will. But on the other hand, so many of those behaviors—perhaps all of them—begin with a single choice, made in a moment of weakness or loneliness or pain. Made at a moment when a person is vulnerable and isn’t thinking in terms of the incredible dignity and holiness their body contains, simply by being a vessel of the soul.

And although it’s easy for me to recognize the weakness all around me, I wonder what parts of my life need scrutiny. And if I have the courage to face them honestly, and make a change.