We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Image of God

Colossians 1:15-20 , also known as the "Christ hymn," is widely recognized for being an important expression of the early church's developing understanding of the person of Christ—of its christology.  The translation tradition that began with the King James Version (KJV) and is most recently represented by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) uniformly opens the hymn in verse 15 by referring to Jesus as the "image of the invisible God."  He is the firstborn of all of creation.  All things were created through Christ.  In verse 19, the hymn reaches something of a climax by claiming that "all the fullness of God" resided in Jesus.  In brief, Jesus was the image of God in whom the fullness of God resided.

Rather than treating these two statements about God as being objective descriptions of an external Reality, suppose for a moment that we look on them as existential affirmations of a shared faith experience.  Then, the Christ hymn affirms that when we study him and seek to understand him, we are studying and seeking to understand God.  We are "doing' theology.  We can confess our inability as human beings to comprehend God or to understand God as God and yet feel a certain degree of confidence (faith) that when we examine Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, we are looking in the direction of God.  We "see" God as best we can with human hearts and minds.  By the same token, in our experience with Christ we "touch" something of the very nature of God as best as we can experience God.  When we see Jesus, we see the image of God.  When we experience faith in him, we touch the fullness of God.

It is almost a sacrilege to turn these experiential affirmations of faith into doctrines.  Once they become doctrines, they take on a certain rigidity and boundedness that belies their deepest meanings as statements of faith based on experience.  One does not turn a father's love for his children or the quiet awe of sunset on an evening lake into doctrines.  There is "something" embedded deep within these human experiences that transcends explanation, definition, and indoctrination.  The same is true of our experience and vision of Jesus who is for us the image of God and in whom dwelt the fullness of God.  Amen.