“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’”
“Why daddy?” “Why?” “But why?” It starts early, our quest for purpose and meaning, our longing to understand. Perhaps it’s the philosopher in my little granddaughter in her daily litany of “why this?” and “why that?” There is a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to this pursuit of the “why?” It’s called “teleology” and has to do with studying ultimate purpose or design. It’s trying to make sense of the “whys?” and the ultimate purpose of the world and history. Young and old long to know that there is purpose behind the seemingly random, meaningless misfires of blind fate.
Holocaust prisoner Viktor Frankl longed for some purpose and meaning in Auschwitz and three other Nazi death camps. From those horrific days as he watched the lives of his family stolen from him, he learned that “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” (Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning). That “why” to live for and to die for is the pearl of great price.
Often when I am asking “why?” I like to open my Bible to its very first page. There I read God’s eternal purpose for you and for me: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” That was God’s purpose for us at the beginning and stands as God’s purpose for us now, to share in His very image and life.
But then I turn a page or two in my Bible and learn that life soon turned nasty and brutish. Through what we call “sin” and theologians call “the Fall”, God’s image written in us was marred and terribly defaced. The very creatures made to bear God’s image now bore the image of Adam’s sin and death:
“When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth”. (Genesis 5:3)
Did you catch that monstrous, epochal change in Adam’s family! Created in God’s image, humanity bears instead the image of fallen Adam. That’s why no one has to be taught how to be self-centered, or go to school to learn how to lie, steal, and harm. We bear the genetic code of the Fall.
Yet in the ashes stood the Man, Christ Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and today we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Corinthians 3:18). Through our Redeemer’s saving life God’s eternal purpose for us stands: to bear the image of God!
Putting down our anchor in God’s unchanging purpose can help us weather life’s hardest and most painful “whys?” We learn that we have a why to live and die for in the apostle Paul’s sublime words:
We know all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. (Romans 8:28-29)
Notice again the Bible connecting God’s purpose with our being made in God’s image. All the things happening to our mad, fallen world are being worked “togother for good”, and “according to his purpose.” All of these things are bending towards God’s grand and eternal purpose, that we might share the very likeness and image of Jesus, and call Him our older brother!
Susan Howatch is an English novelist and convert to Christ who now uses her writing to entertain and to communicate Christian faith. In Howatch’s 1996 novel, Absolute Truths, she weaves the theme of God taking whatever happens in our lives and redeeming it for good. Midway through the book the narrator, whose life is broken and coming apart, visits a sculptor’s studio. He watches as the sculptor kneads, twists, and presses the clay. As the sculptor works she explains the process of transforming a lump of clay into a work of art:
Every step I take, every bit of clay I ever touch, they are all there in the final work. If they hadn’t happened then this [she gestured to the sculpture] wouldn’t exist. In fact they had to happen for the work to emerge as it is. So in the end every major disaster, every tiny error, every wrong turning, every fragment of discarded clay, all the blood, sweat and tears, everything has meaning. I give it meaning, I re-use, reshape, recast all that goes wrong so that, in the end, nothing is wasted and nothing is without significance and nothing ceases to be precious to me.
We still bear the image of Adam’s race, with all it’s blood, sweat and tears. But “We know” that God is working all of this together for good and that His eternal purpose for us stands: to be transformed into God’s image and to forever share in His life and glory. May knowing this help us today with life’s painful and hard “whys?”.
Grace and peace,
photo by Wade M