Posts Tagged ‘image of God’

Lent and Ash Wednesday

During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15: 47-49

“Image is everything” was an ad slogan a few years back.  “Image” in Greek is “icon”. The Lord teaches us in His Scriptures that we bear two icons:  the icon of the man of dust and the icon of the man of heaven.   Those images are everything. We bear these images at the same time. 

The Lord formed man out of the dust, dust in the Hebrew  is“adam”, the man from the “adamah”, soil.  He breathed into the man the breath of life.  He still does.  “After God had so bountifully offered proof of His goodness, our first parents behaved as though the Devil intended only good and God intended only ill.” (Franz Delitzsch)  They bought that lie after the dialogue with the father of all lies.  And the Lord said to our first parents: 

“…for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return”

(Genesis 3; also Ecclesiastes 3: 20)

The very words this ancient practice of the Church cites on this day. A custom of tracing a cross of ashes on the forehead is not prescribed in the Bible, but it illustrates the reality of  fallen human nature.  The same words from Genesis are spoken at a graveside as the casket is lowered into the adamah.   This is our “natural body”, a “living being” that was meant to live days without end, but now in sin it now returns to an end: dusty death.  The natural is first, the icon of the man of dust.

We live by the Lord’s promise alone, His Word alone, His Word who became flesh, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit:  Jesus Christ.  He is from heaven.  He became entirely as the first man:  dust, a natural, fleshly body… and He became the now fallen and sinful and disgraced natural body.  We heard again on Transfiguration Sunday He shone like the light of heaven, un-borrowed, uncreated light of heaven so that it is unmistakable:  here is God in man made manifest.  The man and the woman were created by the Lord in His own image, in His own image He gave them, male and female, the stamp of His divinity.  The image is cracked beyond human repair. Jesus Christ was and is this perfect image before the Fall and now incarnate and on Golgotha He become utterly broken and debased image of the man of dusty sin and death. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is risen.  He is the life-giver bearing in His hands the marks of the Cross breathing His grace, mercy and peace, His forgiveness into this image and man of dust.     

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Maybe you have heard on the news, and/or read in articles the oft used  word “optics” especially in politics: bad or good optics is the way a politician or politcal party handles situations regarding their actions.  In other words, how does it look? Image is everything.

In his last column in the New York Times (2009) word guru, William Safire wrote:

“Optics” is hot, rivaling content. “It seems that politicians are now working to ensure that their policy positions are stated in a way that’s ‘optically acceptable’ to their constituents,” writes Tom Short of San Rafael, Calif. “Not good. Anytime I hear this word used in any context outside of graphic arts, my eye doctor’s office or the field of astronomy, my B.S. detector goes into high alert.”

Everyone’s “B. S. detector” should go into red alert.    The original meaning of “optics” is not the same now.  I do not like the new meaning because it sounds so important, but it is elected officials and others committing willful fraud, talk about “optics”, or as it used to be said,  “trying to pull the wool over your eyes”.  And the response to that is, “Let me help you”.   But why is it so few seem to care?  Our discourse is not about content, substance…truth, any longer, but image, and sound bites,and emotional tugs. Congregations want to look good but the Lord’s  goal to be good is downplayed.  Image is actually not everything.. The assertion “image is everything” is the confession of idolatry, but image is a whole lot easier than the truth, God’s own truth about human nature. 

It is so easy to buy into the Canon ad slogan of several years ago.   We live in the age of the endless image or images parading across our screens, computer and television. Professor Neil Postman in his critique of television, Amusing Ourselves to Death:  Public Discourse in the Age of Television (1985) talks about “the image”, that images have replaced words as the means (media) of public discourse. 

In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, American no longer talk to each other, they entertaineach other.  They do not exchange ideas;  they exchange images.  They do not argue with propositions, they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. (emphasis my own)

In ’85, there was no internet, no memes, no snappy sayings with images.  We now exchange images. The graven image forbidden in the first commandment has always been downplayed in a culture influenced by the Bible but now with the liberalization of culture, the graven image  is accepted and lauded.  We are like the people of Israel with the golden calf. 

Now it is written in Genesis that man is made in the image of God, like a living statue reflecting God.  I think that the “image of God” in the fall, in sin, has not been destroyed, but divorced from our Creator, and that means a cleavage in every man and woman. We can look good on the outside and inside just the opposite.  As Jesus said about the Pharisees, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’sbones and all”  (St Matthew 23: 27).   This could be the verse for the age of optics, of appearing good.  It is  more important the way one looks and wears, than who you are and who’s you are.  The art of “optics” in politics is most assuredly bipartisan and Pharasaical. It is the total disconnect and divorce of image from substance, the inside.  The only ones we are fooling are ourselves and each other with “optics’ but the Lord sees the heart.

Then in the fullness of time came the One in whom image and substance is perfectly one, Jesus Christ:  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1: 15).  The reunion in repentance in His redemption has begun and will be fulfilled in the new creation, in the resurrection of the body:  ” Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15: 49).  This image, the image of of the man of heaven is actually everything. And so today, we are baptized into Christ, and notice the Apostle Paul’s exhortation speaks to our euphemism. “optics” :   Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3). 

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“The Temptation of Eve” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, heavenly Father, You created Adam in Your image and gave him Eve as his helpmate, and after their fall into sin, You promised them a Savior who would crush the devil’s might. By Your mercy, number us among those who have come out of the great tribulation with the seal of the living God on our foreheads and whose robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam’s ribs to be his companion and helper (Genesis 2:18-24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of creation as His representatives. But they forsook God’s Word and plunged the world into sin (Genesis 3:1-7). For this disobedience, God drove them from the garden. Eve would suffer pain in childbirth and would chafe at her subjection to Adam; Adam would toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:8-24). Sin had entered God’s perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the fall, as the apostle Paul writes, “For in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). (From the LCMS website)

Reflection: The woodcut above is interesting for this detail: please note the one woman has a serpent’s tail which Cranach is telling us is the devil who has become a woman, but not just any woman. It has become Eve. Eve is being tempted by Eve, her own image. The image of man and woman, created in the image of God is powerful but it was to reflect the Lord’s love and dominion but not him or her self as a self-existing all attractive being. Romans 1:

1 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, 2013, went to “selfie”:  a photo you take of  yourself with your camera or phone, with or without others.  The sin from the origin is selfie sin.  Cranach caught the 2013 Word of the Year which was not even in his vocabulary.  We live in a society in thralldom to the self, from “Self” magazine to a talk show host who’s magazine only features her every time to the worshiping the stars.  Selfies seeks only the mirror of the camera’s eye.  The Lord sees us with His eye and it both searches heart and soul from Whom no secrets are hid.  His eye cries over the death of the body and soul (see   John 11:35 ).    As the Christmas states it well: Christ was born for this. Born into a world in which everyone is looking out for #1 in sheer adulation, He came a mewling baby in a feeding trough, the Son of God. He came to be last and least of all, the First became last. The Coming One who brought us the reign of God. Colossians 1:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

There is only one Word of the year, for this year and every year since the beginning of the new creation:  Jesus.

Lord God, heavenly Father, You created Adam in Your image and gave him Eve as his helpmate, and after their fall into sin, You promised them a Savior who would crush the devil’s might. By Your mercy, number us among those who have come out of the great tribulation with the seal of the living God on our foreheads and whose robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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A couple of weeks ago the local newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia had a Sunday feature article on the return of the evening soaps as in the past when “Dallas” ruled the night air.  The writer listed several that are currently on television and one  of the most popular  is “Downton Abbey”.  It is PBS’ biggest hit ever (an aside: they sure do not need federal tax dollars!).  I watch it.  I have been hooked.

For those who do not know about Downton Abbey:  it is set in England, in Downton Abbey, the estate of the Grantham Family, Lord and Lady Grantham and their 3 daughters and the Dowager Countess, Grandma-ma (played with skilled aplomb by Maggie Smith:  most familiar to most in Harry Potter).  It is also a type of replay of an older Masterpiece Theatre series, “Upstairs, Downstairs”:  it also about the staff, their lives, struggles, hopes and dreams along with the family.  The time is pre-World I, World War I and post-war. It is so popular that folks have Downton Abbey parties as they watch it, but  alas it is on Sundays and that is staff’s night off at Reverend House.

I think there is something different about this “soap” than the usual soaps evening or daytime.  Evening and afternoon soaps are all about beautiful people in perpetual heat.  I think, for instance, that Greek mythology is  simply divine soap operas.  But “Downton” is different. The Granthams are nobility and especially, Lord Grantham, try to act noble. Most of the staff, even in the midst of war, attempt to do the right thing and act noble.  Now do they?  By no means!  In fact some of the funniest movies and TV shows are about upper class people, ‘noble’ acting downright ignoble and snobbish, see the Marx Brothers, especially “Duck Soup”, the Three Stooges (the ones with Curly, please!), “Cheers” and “Frasier”.  And Downton is no different:   when they act less than noble the results can be funny…and also dangerous.

In one episode, for instance,Lord Grantham takes a shine to the upstairs maid and vice versa.  They have a tryst that includes kissing, but no suggestion of intercourse.   Lord Grantham knew he was doing wrong by committing adultery with her(btw, remembering that adultery is not only ‘doing the deed’ but also of the eye and desire gone awry (see Matthew 5:28) but he stopped it with her help.  Well, noble…to do the right thing against even the lusts of the flesh.  Lenten theme?  Maybe.

And do we even speak of being noble in our day?  We conveniently separate personal and public roles with the excuse, “Oh, what he does in his spare time…” in a kind of sociological schizophrenia as when all the talk was about President Clinton.  But character is one.  The devil separates the unity.  And the characters of Downton Abbey know the meaning of character or want to.  Yes, they dress the part!  Never the less, would it not be something to say of a President:  he acted nobly.  We sing this of the saints:

Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

We are called to fight nobly as His army.   3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.-2 Timothy 2

There is  a nobility in man from the get-go:  made in the image of God.  But when Adam only looked to himself to be God, eventually his son Cain killed his brother Abel. The image was cracked and yet the shards of the image still reflect the Creator’s work:

“…what is man that you are mindful of him,
   and the son of man that you care for him?

 5Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
   and crowned him with glory and honor.
6You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
7all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
8the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” Psalm 8

It as if the Landlord had set His stewards over His vast holdings to care for them.  But alas, this image can destroy rapaciously what He has given Man as is attested in Scripture and as Scripture is life, real life, in our lives and His Law calls to account, and we must say to live:  we have sinned, we repent.  We have accepted such ignoble images of man as an animal, just an evolutionary accident not waiting to happen,  or a consumer or an object.  Man  sings, dances, paints, builds, creates and yet is dust who destroys. And God became man to restore him.

Victor Frankl, German psychologist, was a survivor of the concentration camps.  In his widely popular book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the nobility and ignoble nature which exists side by side in man, he discovered in the night…with hope in the darkest hours of our civilization:

“Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” 

Maybe they so entered because the noble Word ennobled them to remember Who’s they were.  They were not sold even by even seemingly all-powerful evil.  They were free.  Noble.  And the anti-Christ hated the Word of the Lord God of Israel and His Church and still could not stop it from their lips and their hearts.

I know, I have come a long way in a short distance from an evening soap to Nazi Germany!  Sadly,  it was historically a short distance from the time in which this show is set, from November 11th,  1918, the end of World War I, at the 11th hour,  to September 1, 1939, and the armies of darkness invading Poland…only 21 years later.  It does not take long to give into our base desires.  We can see what man can do and has.  We can see the way man is and can be in Jesus Christ and who Jesus Christ is, “…towering o’er the wrecks of time” (from the first stanza, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”, LSB #427)  And it is only a short distance to call upon Him while He is near in an ennobling prayer:

On my heart imprint Thine image,
Blessed Jesus, King of Grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Have no power Thee to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s Foundation,
And my Glory and Salvation.

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