Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Image of God Explains Who We Are

Imago Dei is latin for "The Image of God." It is the Christian doctrine which teaches the mankind bears the image of the Creator. This is not the same as pantheism which teaches that we are a part of the of God as an emanation of the one Being. Strictly speaking, in pantheism, there is no "creation", simply various manifestations of God. Rather, Christianity teaches that mankind bears the stamp of the Creator. This marking, this imaging of God, is a mystery. We are, according to the Christian Scriptures, a reflection of God, but we are not God. Much like a poem reflects the thoughts and feelings of the poet. The poem is not the poet, but we can learn much about the poet by reading his poetry.

Because we are made in the image of God, we do 'God-like' things. One of these things that we do is make art. We draw drawings; we paint pictures; we write books; we make music. These endeavors express our longing to express ourselves. We want to say something about the concepts of truth, justice, despair, longing, and beauty. We see these things as something outside ourselves, and though we feel them, we are consternated in that we also feel that we cannot reach them. Like pleasure, we brush these things, are delighted by them, but they cannot be held for long, nor fully explained in reflection. However, we can try, and sometimes our efforts capture something of what we have seen and felt and known.

Christianity also teaches that the Imago Dei has been corrupted. We are shattered reflections of God because of sin. We are then, akin to mirrors. In our original, unbroken state allowed us to reflect beauty without marring it in the process. So, if I felt love in that state, I could turn to you and reflect it to you in all its beauty, and as you understood and felt love, you could reflect it back to me again. Only it would be enhanced in the return because sharing love between two people makes the thing shared seem greater. We do this when we mutually praise our favorite songs and television shows and art pieces, we enjoy it alone, but we enjoy it more with company.

This explains the glory and sadness of art. We are trying, in our broken way, to share the things we feel. The greatest artists understands that this effort is taxing and often feels vain. This is why a great artist may despair over his own work and feel it a failure. He knows it does not fully express what he wanted to say, and yet it expresses enough that we marvel at it.

This realization of imperfect expression can plunge the artist into despair, and it often does. They know, innately, that something is wrong. That they have not expressed the glory of their subject perfectly, and because of this, they know that you are not feeling and enjoying it as you ought. This can lead to a terrible retreat into nihilism or relativism. That is, it could lead one to conclude that these feelings are subjective anyway. This takes away the sting that objective truth brings. It lowers the bar by teaching that since their is no objective truth of beauty, justice, or glory, then you cannot possibly express it correctly anyway so the pressure is off. If we retreat to nihilism, then everything is meaningless anyway, so why torture yourself with the trying?

Christianity teaches, on the other hand, that objective truth is real but inexpressable. We believe in justice as a fact, but we also believe that we cannot achieve justice here because of the fall. Not perfectly. But we do not quit the field, and we do not quit making art. We keep trying to refract, as best we can, the truths of God that we know in order to point people, however imperfectly, back to the Great Artist we were made to reflect. We long for Him to fix this marred world, we believe that He will, but most of all, we long for the Artist Himself. He is love, joy, justice, peace, wrath, and mercy. He is the source of all of these things we are trying to get at through our music and poetry.

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