In The Likeness Of God

From “A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology”
by J. Kenneth Grider, 1921-2006

Christians ought not to denigrate nature. For one thing, God pronounced his creation “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).

Nature is the offspring of God even as we are. Our bodies link us with it. In sovereign and lavish freedom, God created the whole visible sphere. If you were to tell an ancient Hebrew that materiality is evil, he would be dumbfounded by your silly talk.

The body is no doubt included when scripture states that we were made in God’s image. Two words are found in the Hebrew: “selem,” for image and “demuth,” for likeness.

The passage reads, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Both selem (image) and demuth (likeness) are also used in Gen. 5:3, where we are told that Adam begat Seth “in his own likeness, in his own image.”

Selem originally meant something cut out, that is, something physical. While it came to be used sometimes of something more shadowy than a body, such as the form that a dream took (Ps. 73:20), yet “a concrete representation clings to the word.”

H. Wheeler Robinson contended that the word implies that we humans were literally a copy of God in our physical form. E. C. Rust agrees that “man was created in a bodily form on the divine pattern.” This does not mean, of course, that God has a body. Some writers suggest that our bodies are in God’s image because we walk upright, with a dignified bearing, and not as beasts do. The body might be said to be in God’s image because of the purpose with which it has been endowed as a total functioning organism. James Arminius felt that our bodies are in God’s image because “if man had not sinned, his body would never have died and because it is capable of special incorruptibility and glory.”

In keeping with this is the fact that our flesh, our “basar,” could “rest secure” (Ps. 16:9) and long for God (63:1). True, “all flesh is grass” (Isa. 40:6, KJV), and “no flesh shall have peace” (Jer. 12:12, KJV). It is weak, but it is not evil.

The most obvious indication that nature in general, and the body in particular, is not evil is the fact that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). In the fullness of time, when our finest hour had come, “the desire of all nations” (Hag. 2:7, KJV) entered into human life, body and all. And while in human form he healed all manner of disease and even raised the dead on a few occasions.

After Christ’s return, too, the whole creation is to be renewed, sharing in the glorification that awaits us (Rom. 8:18-21; 1 Cor. 15:42ff.). Transformed nature is poetically conceived in scripture as joining with us in worshipping and praising God.

Thus we read, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13).

All this means that the Christian doctrine of redemption is as broad as the Christian doctrine of creation. It means that the world itself is Christlike, that it is sacramental, that we are to view it eucharistically. It means that in the thingliness of things there is a residency of grace.

Joseph Sittler said that we need to perceive a residency of grace not only in nature per se but in fabricated nature as well. Our world is becoming increasingly urban. Because of this, what the individual Christian observes more often than not is fabricated nature (roads, buildings, machines, instruments). If we learn to see a residency of grace only in a meadow or a crooked mountain trout stream, we might not be very often reminded of the eucharistic qualities of the world. Why not, then, learn to observe a residency of grace in what people have done as coworkers with God in nature? The ingenuity of our fellows is imbedded in fabricated nature, as well as God’s ingenuity. Sometimes human life was given in the construction of a bridge, building, or freeway. Always, human sweat was expended on them. When we use such structures, we enter into all that kind of cost. We use the special skills of people we have never known. Perhaps fabricated nature ought to be celebrated with more delight yet than nature per se. All of it is the theatre for the glorification of God.

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