Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 19: Becoming the Image of God

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In Part 8: Why Do Relationships Break?, I say, “The bottom line in any broken relationship…is that either person involved is unwilling to surrender their identity [to the relationship].” If you think about it, if we want to consider that matrimony is becoming “one flesh,” two individuals ought to be seen as one, which means that whatever would keep them as individuals ought to disappear. Now, on the practical side of things, it is impossible for two separate entities to actually meld their flesh together or even their personalities together. It is more likely, though, that they could unite their minds—rather their attitudes—as well as their sense of identity, to a certain degree. In Part 14b, I had described the Image of God as the unity of human beings rather than the human being itself, which is to say that, though we are created in the image of God, being image of God is not fully realized until human beings are more unified or also until an individual has unified the incongruent parts of himself/herself. This unity was exemplified by the joining of opposites: male and female—a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) so to speak. This unity of male and female presents us with a tangible conceptualization of completion.

That being said, what is completion? What is perfection? These realities only exist with God. In our mortal existence, however, perhaps we could best understand completion as harmony. One could actually say that completion could not be achieved without harmony first, for, while completion is a state of being, harmony is a living process. Likewise, peace is a state, but peace cannot be achieved without harmony. So then, what is harmony? Unlike peace, which is the absence of conflict, harmony is created by conflict. Harmony is an agreement between opposing forces; it is a balance of opposites—holding opposites in tension but in such a way that either side becomes mutually productive through the destruction of what is unnecessary or even toxic. The Chinese symbol of yin-yang attempts to capture this idea by showing that opposing forces cannot exist without each other with each side being a product of the other. True peace and completion—rather, perfection—do not and cannot exist in the created universe. As abstract concepts, peace and perfection are solely the domain of God’s core essence. The rest of the created universe is a perpetual struggle for balance—for harmony. Harmony, in my opinion, is the highest human achievement and therefore the most worthwhile goal. It is not something that someone could see in the world in one’s own lifetime. If anything, it could be a personal endeavor in regards to one’s own soul. As a living process, harmony is that which human beings ought to be pursuing as their creative project. In truth, the symbol of the male and female in unity is a symbol of this harmony—harmony with God, with other people, with the universe, and with oneself.

The Vitruvian Androgyny

To visualize this abstract concept, I propose what I call the “Vitruvian Androgyny.” An image born of my own meditations with some influence from alchemical and tantric ideas, the Vitruvian Androgyny is positioned to resemble Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” which was itself a mediation on the concept of perfect proportions described by the Roman architect Vitruvius. The word androgyne is the union of the Greek words for man and woman: aner/andros and gune/gunaikos respectively. The form of the androgyne—a human person divided into male and female halves—takes inspiration from the alchemical hermaphrodite, which, as I will describe, is the symbol of the completed opus—the philosopher’s stone. Finally, the entity is surrounded by an ouroboros which symbolizes eternity as well as the flux of creation and destruction. For me personally, the ouroboros is a symbol of God. The Vitruvian Androgyny is intended to be a symbol of the completed Imago Dei.

Vitruvian Androgyny

The symbol obviously portrays the hieros gamos and thus the concept of “one flesh,” but this sort of unity, even at the symbolic level, cannot occur without a particular transformation. In the previous post—Part 18: Sanctification–Healing By Fire—I declare that true transformation involves pain, which could be visualized by flame. In a personal journal, I once described a similar process through which a relationship between people may grow stronger. I called it the “Three Fires of Love.” The first fire is the fire of passion, the spark that is ignited when two people are drawn to each other or the excitement that occurs in getting to know new people. This is the fire of celebration, the fire of energy, and the fire of lust. As time passes, this intense fire turns into the second fire—the fire of destruction. Everyone knows that if a fire is not contained, it can do more harm than good. For our purposes, this is acceptable. As people grow more intimate, their sin natures begin to become more evident. People are never what they initially appear to be. If people want to remain in that intimacy, they will have to remain in that fire, and that fire will burn away everything that does not belong in the relationship. If everything is burned away, then there was nothing rock-solid ever holding that relationship together, and it was doomed from the start. However, for those relationships that survive the destructive fire, they are purified. In truth, a proper understanding of pain leads to wisdom.

I mentioned that the Vitruvian Androgyny was inspired by alchemy. In alchemy, the elements to be transmuted are regularly symbolized by a man and a woman—more specifically a king and a queen. An important stage in the alchemical work is the coniunctio, the conjunction or the melding of the elements into a single product. Naturally, the coniunctio can be described in sexual terms. This bears resemblance to some imagery that comes out of Indian Tantra. While the Western world has done more to sexualize Tantra, a significant portion of Tantric imagery involves the relationship between a god and a goddess—often Shiva and Shakti. Similar imagery appears in Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana) as well. The unity of Shiva and Shakti is what I once described in a paper as the “destructive romance.” Both Shiva and Shakti are known for their creative and destructive aspects. Their love play both destroys the universe and creates it at the same time. Something new cannot be created without something else being destroyed.

In the alchemical process, the coniunctio is the stage where the elements must be broken down in order to be melded together. They are broken down by either fire or water (yes, we could make some allusions to baptism). The result is the hermaphrodite—a person with one body but two heads (not to be confused with intersex). One head and one side of the body is male; the other head and other side of the body is female. As I said before, the hermaphrodite is a symbol of the completed work—the philosopher’s stone or elixir of immortality for the alchemists. Psychologically speaking, as explored by Carl Jung, it is the cessation of mental dissonance—the harmony of opposites, getting in touch with the shadow, the anima/animus, and ultimately the Self. In Tantra, there is the image of the Ardhanarishvara: simply another human that is divided into a male and female half. This image is also essentially a harmony of opposites, portraying a paradox: naturally opposing forces are complementary and are actually dependent upon each other. Whatever tension may exist actually does not exist. The combination of the two becomes a single entity.

This brings me to the third fire of love—the fire of comfort, the fire of the home. When the destructive fire has been cooled and contained, it becomes the hearth, that which provides warmth, protection, and relief. A relationship in this stage becomes a sanctuary. This fire is also the fire of harmony. Altogether, the “Three Fires of Love” can be a symbol of the human relationship with God—as could also be said of the coniunctio and Tantric ideas.

I reiterate, the harmonious union of male and female represent the Imago Dei. Thus, they represent the union between humanity and God. In actuality, they represent the Church or the Imago Christi—that which has been unified to God through Christ.

Theosis: Becoming Divine

All this brings to mind theosis, deification—a prevalent concept in Eastern Orthodox tradition. Early church theologian Irenaeus said, “God became human that we might become divine.” Athanasius, proponent of the Nicene Creed, echoes, “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.” Perhaps the latter is an oversimplified remark. If anything, the process of deification, or theosis, is really a union with God rather than becoming a god. As stated by Veli-Matti Karkkainen at the beginning of his book One With God: Salvation as Deification and Justification, “All major religions agree on one thing: the deepest desire of the human person is to get in contact and to live in union with his or her God.”* If the human being is created in the image of God, it is natural to assume that the Imago Dei would seek out completion—after all, is that not what people want anyway? In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, theosis is the fulfillment of human creation. God created humanity to be co-creators (Part 14c), but at the same time God is continually creating humanity. Unity begins with a willing participation in God’s creative work. This involves the transformation that I have discussed in the posts up to this point. It ends it a mystery—the larger part of the creative effort being on God’s part.

For starters, let me clarify what it means to be “deified.” Psalm 82:6-7 states,

I say, “You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.”

Jesus quotes this verse in John 10:34 in response to charges of blasphemy:

The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? (John 10:33-36)

The word elohim in Hebrew actually has a wide semantic range. Not only does it refer to God—that is, Yahweh—it is also used to denote any number of “gods” or “goddesses.” Elohim is a plural word as it is. Besides those meanings, elohim can also refer to divine creatures that are not necessarily gods, such as angels, superhumans, or representatives of God—beings that reflect divine majesty and power (like a judge or a prophet). This latter definition is the most likely the most suitable for Psalm 82:6. It also is compatible with what I discussed in Part 14c about human stewardship. Likewise, the Greek theos has a similar semantic range—used for “God,” “gods,” and elevated humans—people deserving of reverence.

With this in mind, what did the Eastern writers mean by theosis or deification? While the language of Irenaeus and Athanasius appear to imply that human beings actually become deities, this is not actually the case. Instead, theosis may hardly be different than the Protestant view of justification or “making righteous,” while at the same time it is more profound—namely due to Eastern anthropology. The idea behind “making righteous” (see Part 18) is that God is restoring the covenant relationship between God and humanity that was broken because of sin’s corruption. Deification does not put the human being at the same level as God nor does union mean becoming absorbed into God to the point of being identical. Rather, to quote 2 Peter 1:3-4,

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.

Deification is a restoration of the Imago Dei status, or, in other words, bringing the Imago Dei to fruition. Furthermore, union is a restoration of the divine relationship—a participation in the divine nature. Unlike the Western Church’s tradition which uses a lot of legal and guilt terminology to describe the fall and redemption, the Eastern Church claims that human beings were never created perfect in the first place. Though created as the image of God, humans were created incomplete. Perfection was never something that was lost, as it was always something that had to be developed. To be the image of God is to be God’s creative agent in creation. Being a free agent, though, the human has the choice to be a participant in the divine relationship. When one does submit to God though, God is able to continue the creative process as is suits God. To quote Karkkainen,

God’s aim is rather to fulfill the purpose for which he created human beings, namely, to participate in God’s life. The earthly life is for growth and development for this eternal communion….This process would have involved an education in love, a free collaboration with God. Unfortunately, sin deflected humanity from this path and disrupted God’s purposes.

For deification to happen, the energy of a human person must be synergized with the energy of God (the Holy Spirit)—the energy of God ultimately being the solvent while the cross is the catalyst for transformation. The transformative power of the cross is a medicinal power (See Part 16: The Crucified Serpent), allowing for people to “escape from the corruption that is in the world” and be shaped into the true Imago Dei. In that Christ became that which Adam failed to be become, Christ himself renewed—or “recapitulated”—the image of God, fixing the volatile, and made it useful. In reality, what we called deification should be called “Christofication.” After all, the means by which a person may find unity with God is by conforming to the essence of Christ and thereby being adopted as a child of God.

Love and Harmony

It is clear from the Scriptures that progress towards peace and harmony is central to the believer’s purpose. Consider these verses from the New Testament:

• Romans 12:14-18: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
• Colossians 3:12-15: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”
• Hebrews12:14: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Now, how does one achieve harmony? As Colossians 3:14 states, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” One achieves harmony through love—specifically agape or unconditional love. Paul defines agape in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Agape is the key to harmony and, as such, is the key to Christian living.

One of the greatest misnomers about Christian living is that it requires abiding by many rules. This perspective, of course, has been fuel for much rebellion against Christian living. However, generally speaking, rules do not exist on their own; they are formed by ethical reasoning which in turn are reflections on values/meaningful things. Christian living is about upholding certain values, for one who proclaims to be Christian proclaims that there are more important things in life than oneself—namely peace, harmony, and perfection/completion. So much of the New Testament is an encouragement away from rules/the law and towards a proactive life centered on love. If one loves, rules do not necessarily apply to him/her. Paul affirms what the Corinthians state, “All things are lawful,” though he clarifies, “but not all things are helpful…not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). So what is the correct understanding of Christian ethical living? Augustine of Hippo says, “Love, and do what you will” (Homily 7 on 1 John).


* When people generalize that all religions are saying the same thing, what they ought to say is that all religions are pursuing something similar (the differences being purely phenomenological). However, every religion and branch of religion suggests a different avenue towards that end with some overlaps. One need only look at the effects of the ideologies on a person’s day-to-day living to assess the applicability and success of any given ideology.

Final Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 20: The Ministry of the Imago Dei



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