October 12, 2006

The Corporate Image of God

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Theology :: Permalink

Though we often think simply of individuals being created “in the image of God,” Herman Bavinck reminds us that the image is also corporate.  More than that, that corporate imaging of God becomes richer and deeper through time.

Adam was not created alone.  As a man and by himself he was incomplete.  He lacked something for which no lower creature could make up (Gen. 2:20).  As a man by himself, accordingly, neither was he yet the fully unfolded image of God.  The creation of mankind in God’s image was only completed on the sixth day when God created both man and woman in union with each other (cf. ‘wtm, Gen. 1:27), in his image.

Still even this creation in God’s image of man and woman in conjunction is not the end but the beginning of God’s journey with mankind.  It is not good that the man should be alone (Gen. 2:18); nor is it good that the man and woman should be alone.  Upon the two of them God immediately pronounced the blessing of multiplication (Gen. 1:28).  Not the man alone, nor the man and woman together, but only the whole of humanity is the fully developed image of God, his son, his offspring.

The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be.  It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depth and riches in a humanity counting billions of members.  Just as the traces of God (vestigia dei) are spread over many, many works, in both space and time, so also the image of God can only be displayed in all its dimensions and characteristic features in a humanity whose members exist both successively one after the other and contemporaneously side by side.

But just as the cosmos is a unity and receives its head and master in man; and just as the traces of God (vestigia dei) scattered throughout the entire world are bundled and raised up into the image of God of humankind, so also that humanity in turn is to be conceived as an organism which, precisely as such, is finally the only fully developed image of God.  Not as a heap of souls on a tract of land, not as a loose aggregate of individuals, but as having been created out of one blood, as one household and one family, humanity is the image and likeness of God.

Belonging to that humanity is also its development, its history, its ever-expanding dominion over the earth, its progress in science and art, its subjugation of all creatures.  All these things as well constitute the unfolding of the image and likeness of God in keeping with which man was created.  Just as God did not reveal himself just once at the creation, but continues and expands that revelation from day to day and from age to age, so also the image of God is not a static entity but extends and unfolds itself in the forms of space and time.  It is both a gift (Gabe) and a mandate (Aufgabe).  It is an undeserved gift of grace that was given the first human being immediately at the creation, but at the same time the grounding principle and germ of an altogether rich and glorious development.

Only humanity in its entirety — as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation — only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God (In the Beginning, pp. 212-213).

I’m not sure Bavinck is entirely right about the image itself here.  It sounds as if he’s saying that a man by himself really can’t do justice to the image of God, and yet Jesus, as a man, was the perfect image of God.

But I do think Bavinck is right that God’s intention for humanity was that it would grow up, as his image and as his individual images, to a maturity that better and better reflects his likeness. My quibbles with some of what Bavinck says here don’t take away at all from my appreciation for his history-long, humanity-wide scope.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:54 am | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “The Corporate Image of God”

  1. Al Says:

    Should we think of Jesus as the image of God as a detached individual, though? Wouldn’t we be better off regarding Jesus as ‘Christ’, the one in whom the people of God are summed up, and as the last Adam, the head of a new humanity? The new man that is conformed to the image of God is a corporate entity (Colossians 3:10-11).

  2. John Says:

    I dunno, Al. In both Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3, it’s the “Son” who is described as God’s image, but the context does contain references to things He did in the flesh (e.g., purging our sins in Hebrews; redemption and forgiveness in Colossians). So the “Son” here may be the incarnate Son.

    On the other hand, there are also references to creation, and the Son wasn’t incarnate when all things were created by Him. It sounds as if He was already the image of the invisible God when he created (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).

    Furthermore, thinking in terms of the Trinity, it makes sense to me that the Father always had a perfect image, a perfect reflection and representation, in His Son.

    Sonship and image are closely related in Scripture (including in Genesis 5, where Adam, imaging God, has a son in his own image). And so, if the Son truly is eternally the Son of the Father, it would be odd if He was a Son who is not also the Father’s image.

    I suspect the “mystery” here has something to do with the way things are presented in Genesis 1: “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He made man; male and female He created them.”

    There is emphasis on both the individuality and the plurality. Each person is created in the image of God. It’s not as if each of us is a partial image and only together are we really a complete image.

    Rather, I think, each of us is an image of God and together as husband and wife we are the image of God in another sense, and, by extension, together as the community of the redeemed we are growing up into the fullness of Christ so that we are the image of God in yet another sense.

    So, Trinitarian that I am, this may be a both/and thing, with the eternal Son being the perfect image of God and daughter Humanity together with Him being God’s image and being conformed more and more to God’s likeness (which Jesus didn’t need to be).

  3. Al Says:

    You make some good points. I would not deny that the Son is the Image of God apart from creation. My point is more that as man Jesus is the Image of God in a way that we are not (1 Corinthians 11:3-7 might be relevant here).

    I do not believe that we should think in terms of a generic Image of God, which Jesus partakes of perfectly and we partake of only partially. I believe that as the Son He is the Image of God. We are created in the Image of God. He is the One in whom the Image of God is summed up.

    Adam was created in the Image of God in a way that all human beings after him were not. He alone summed up the human race in himself. He in turn is summed up in the Christ. It is this disanalogy that I want to keep hold of.

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