Knowing God, Knowing Ourselves

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”—John 8:12

Studying this week on the subject of the image of God has drawn me into reflection on what it really means to be human; what is essential to our nature and make-up. The early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, believed that the distinctive of humanity is not that we are “like” creation, though we are a part of it, but that we are “like the One who formed creation.” The uniqueness can be seen in the act of creating man. With the rest of creation, God said, “Let there be…” but with the creation of man, God turns inward. He takes council within himself and says, “Let us make man…” Something different and special is taking place here, which distinguishes man from the rest of creation.

It is this uniqueness that leads Robert Louis Wilken to write, “We know ourselves by looking at the face of God.” A remarkable statement, and true—yet, looking at the face of God is easier said than done for fallen humanity. Moses longed to see the face of God but couldn’t, and for good reason. We learn that seeing the face of God was a death sentence for fallen man (Exodus 33:17-23). Though made in the image of God, we can no longer face God.

The consequence is that we are inescapably “lost in the cosmos,” to steal a line from Walker Percy. We cannot be sure of who we really are because the One in whom we were made to image is obscured from our sight. This is why, as Basil the Great said, “We are more likely to know the heavens than ourselves,” and part of the reason Augustine admits in Book X of Confessions that he finds his “…own self hard to grasp.” Ever felt that way? We all have, and in a sense, we all should. Because of sin, we are all strangers in our own skin.

This is why salvation is repeatedly described, not merely as a paying for sins, though that is true, but a recreating act. Redemption is an act of recovery, making a way for humanity to face God. We, who couldn’t face God without dying, needed someone to face God and die, but not ultimately. That’s where Jesus Christ comes in. He faced God at creation, when God said, “Let us make man…” and he was the only one fit to face God again in recreation. In the cross and resurrection, Jesus faced the Father, and removed the veil of separation, so that God could show His glory and we could see it—and be remade. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor.4:6)

Living by the face of Jesus Christ is to learn what it means to be truly human again. We begin the return to who we are, when we transcend ourselves in Christ. Today, know Christ as the image of the invisible God, and then know him as your image.

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