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« Standard Assumptions | Main | The Wrong Choice »

September 29, 2006

More Thoughts on Identity--That Thudding Image

If you've been following my posts, you will have noticed that I've been critiquing both modern and postmodern notions of self. We must come to recognize how subtly culture influences even ideas as central as our own understanding of identity. And we must ultimately look to the Word of God to unlock the mysteries of our own personhood. It’s with this that I continue my thoughts…

I once heard it said, “Making a decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." That bare-bellied, barefoot princeling, who takes his first lurching steps, does so stamped with likeness—of his momma’s sapphire eyes, or his daddy’s half-smile. And if he matures into a scoundrel or a saint, we call him a reflection of the ones whose DNA twisted in that marvelous pirouette, a double helix winding stairway called life.

I’ve wondered at times if God felt that way when He made us. Did he heave a sigh to think that His heart would now go walking around outside of Him? After all, we were to bear His luminous image, a “weight of glory” which would sit like a heavy crown upon the heads of Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters. We would forever reflect Him, with that undeniable family resemblance stamped upon our brows. What a terrible risk. But with something more like laughter than a sigh, the Trinity’s love brimmed over. In Eden’s dawn, mystery broke with a fierce and naked beauty: God’s image thudding through Paradise.

A little more than a century after the time of Christ, while Gnostics spun their heresies, Iraneus, one of the early church Fathers, wrote from Lyon, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”

I’ve seen enough minivans in my life to understand this principle. After all, aren’t their bumpers always plastered with, “My child is an honor roll student at so-and-so elementary.” Parents beam when their child’s life reflects them well. Or to put it in Iraneus’ terms, “The glory of a parent is their child fully alive.”

Yet somehow we’ve often missed this starkly obvious aspect to our identity. If we were made to bear God’s image, we were made to imitate Him. Gil Baile in his essay on the contributions of Rene Girard in The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis, puts it this way:

“What can be said of the creature who is made in the image and likeness of another? Surely this: that this creature can only fulfill its destiny by becoming like someone else. So counterinstinctual and counterintuitive is such a desire, that the likelihood of this creature actually fulfilling its destiny would be slim, indeed, unless the creature were somehow endowed with a desire to do so, a desire equally counterinstinctual and counterintuitive, a desire to be itself by becoming like someone else…. But what a strange creature this would be, one endowed with a desire to fulfill its own unique destiny by modeling the life of another. Can any such creature be found? Rene Girard … insists that the decisive feature of human existence is the central role played in human affairs by mimetic desire, the ineradicable impulse to desire what one sees another desiring, to fashion one’s own desires on the model of another’s desires, in short, to imitate.”

More to come....

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Interesting and good thoughts. The parental nature of god is quite fascinating, for the experience of family is perhaps the closest we will experience of trinitarian love on this side of eternity. And the marred image that we have made ourselves into certainly has caused god on a few occasions to wonder if the whole enterprise was worth the frustration - something many parents can easily echo!

Although postmodern theology comes very close on some aspects, does it accurately describe spiritual transformation by simply stating 'we must become something we're not' or might there be more to the story? While some might consider this semantics, I believe it changes the perspective of our faith significantly: we are not simply trying to be something we are not. Rather, as Christians we are looking to become what we really are - people with the *imago Dei* stamped upon our core.

This is significant in that it does not allow us to simply throw away our present and former experience, but rather do what god is doing - work to redeem it for his glory. It also allows us to see others as they really are - the image of god. Pascal's classic 'deposed royalty' is along these lines.

Yes, change is imperative and I think that much of postmodernity catches this, but the words you quoted from Girard certainly seem to ignore the other side of the coin.

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