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October 13, 2000 Issue
Foundations of Faith

Do we have any idea what God looks like?

God's image isn't so much appearances as attitudes


Renew 2000 Season V: Renewing for the 21st Century
Week 3: Loving the Feminine and Masculine

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Summoned to Serve

"God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).

In this first of two creation stories in Genesis, we hear that human beings are created in God's own image, Male and female both carry this image of God, "in perfect equality as human persons" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 369). The Catechism adds that both men and women reflect God's "wisdom and goodness."

However, thinking about being created in God's image can sometimes lead people to think of God in human images -- and forget about "perfect equality." Being a reflection of God can make us think that we are somehow identical, representing "mirror" images of God, reflecting a God who is male or female or white, black or yellow, or even Jew or Greek.

But God exists in pure spirit, and so is not confined to our limited human perceptions. However, our human perception, limited though they are, can be used to tell us something about what God intends us to be in the great scheme of creation.

The term "being in God's image" reflects an ancient Middle Eastern tradition of sending a statue of the king to outlying areas of the realm as reinforcement for the king's law. "This 'image' was to be the representative of the king in that area," says Pauline Viviano in The Collegeville Bible Commentary. "If we apply this to Genesis, to be created in the image of God is to be God's representative on earth. ... This is a very exalted view of humanity."

The image of the king represented the king's power and authority. Being in God's image means that we represent God's power and authority -- but what does that involve?

* First, as noted above, this is a very exalted role. Being in God's image gives human beings a dignity that can never be taken away, that can never be changed or diminished. The U.S. bishops noted this in their 1986 pastoral on social teaching: "At the summit of creation stands the creation of man and woman, made in God's image. As such, every human being possesses an inalienable dignity that stamps human existence prior to any division into races or nations and prior to human labor and human achievement" (Economic Justice for All, no. 32).

* This "inalienable dignity" means that all human life has value in and of itself. As competitive as our modern Western culture is, we can take comfort in knowing that we do not have to do or achieve anything to have value. Our value comes from God, in whose image we exist. Fr. Richard Gula, SS, says, "As an anthropological statement, 'image of God' says that ... human dignity does not depend ultimately on human achievement but on divine love."

* Thus our greatest human attribute is love, since it is the image of divine love. God, as John told us, is love (1Jn 4). And we, as images of divine love, are meant to reflect that divine love in our world. In fact, Pope John Paul II reminds us that it is our vocation as human beings:

"God created man in his own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love. God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being" (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, no 11)

* Now, when we think of love and vocation and the creation of man and woman described in Genesis, we often think of the vocation of marriage. Pope John Paul calls this "the unity of the two." However, this unity of two is only one dimension of the unity which all human beings -- married or not -- are called to reflect.

"The text of Gn 2:18-25 shows that marriage is the first, and, in a sense, the fundamental dimension of this call (to a communion of life)," says the Holy Father. "But it is not the only one. The whole of human history unfolds within the context of this call. In this history, on the basis of the principle of being mutually 'for' the other in interpersonal 'communion,' there develops in humanity itself, in accordance with God's will, the integration of what is 'masculine' and what is 'feminine" (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, no. 7).

Only in this complete integration of male and female can we fully express -- be images of -- the complete and loving unity expressed in the community that is God, the Trinity.

And it is in the Trinity that we find our key on how, as images of God, we are to renew the 21st century. As Fr. Gula says, "the moral implications of the trinitarian vision of the human person as the image of God have to do with the quality of our relationships and with how our actions build up or destroy the network of relationships that make up human life."

(Sources: Reason Informed by Faith; Catechism of the Catholic Church; On the Dignity and Vocation of Women; Economic Justice for All; Consortium Familiaris)



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