The Image of God

Jesus said, ‘… from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this
reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall
become one flesh.”’
(Mark 10:6-8a) In this episode of discussion between rabbis Jesus quotes both accounts of creation found in the first two chapters of the Jewish and Christian Bible (Genesis 1:27; 2:24).

The first verse Jesus quoted says in full this: God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). From this statement many Christian thinkers have deduced that the love between a man and a woman is designed to reflect, to mirror to the world the love within the Holy Trinity. St Augustine of Hippo wrote this: And the Holy Spirit, according to the Holy Scriptures, is neither of the Father alone, nor of the Son alone, but of both; and so intimates to us a mutual love, wherewith the Father and the Son reciprocally love one another (On the Trinity XV.17.24).

St Paul saw the relationship between a man and a woman as also mirroring or reflecting something else, although closely related to the latter: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ … Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:21,25,31,32). The relationship between a husband and wife is to reflect the love for humankind and creation seen in Jesus … the Jesus who bore our sorrows and suffered upon cross, who gave himself up for us all.

All these ideas underlie the Christian theology of marriage and it makes me wonder how any of us who are married can dare to think that we can live up to such a challenge! But what of those of us who are single, widowed, divorced? And what of those who are LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans-sexual & Inter-sex) – who, because of how they have been made by God, do not fit into this seemingly neat heterosexual view of humankind?

I remember Isabel telling me of a discussion she had on her doorstep, when she was single, with callers from the local independent Charismatic church which ended with them concluding that they would pray that she would find a husband! In this case those prayers got answered, though I am not quite sure they would have totally approved of a child-baptizing Anglican Priest!

It is very sad that within the church, and within society as a whole, those on their own can feel so out of place because of the great emphasis that is placed upon marriage, on being a couple, and on families with children. I also find it sad that those whose God-created nature leads them to seek to live a permanent, faithful (and) stable relationship with a person of the same gender find themselves unwelcome in many Christian communities.

Is it really true that if you do not find yourself in a traditional marriage you are really second-best and not really reflecting the image of God? Is it really true that if you commit yourself to a same-sex partnership you are undermining marriage and the will and purposes of God? It is those sorts of questions and issues that are being thought through in our two Living in Love and Faith courses on Monday evenings. Even if you are not able to join in one of those you can still get the book or download it from the LLF website along with films, individual stories and blogs to listen to. I recommend you register on the site and let it help you think through these issues: https://llf.churchofengland.org/.

It is perhaps surprising that churches seem to have been preoccupied with marriage and protecting it from divorce and same-sex relationships when the one we claim to follow and the one we claim reveals both God and what it is to be truly human was himself unmarried and single. During Jesus’ time on earth it was ’normal’ to be married and Jesus’ situation was unusual. Also, unusually for his time Jesus accepted that singleness was an option for people and disciples (Matthew 19:12). The early church took that to heart and many were soon portraying the single and celibate life as superior to the married state. At the Reformation the Protestant churches in reaction to that swung firmly the other way – that marriage was a state to be preferred.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus accepted both singleness and marriage as both a valid way of life. And St Paul, wrestling with this issue and his own preferences, declared let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you (1 Corinthians 7:17). Such a ‘calling’ may have been one of choice or imposed upon you by circumstances – but no one calling or circumstance is superior or inferior to another.

Married or single or LGBTI we are all loved by God – we are all made in the image of God – we are all called in our relationships to mirror that image to the world – we are all called to be like Jesus. No matter how important intimate sexual relationships, marriage and families maybe, they exist within a far more important relationship that should mirror the image of God. We often declare this truth in our communion service: We are the body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.

Together – whatever our individual callings or circumstances – together we are called to be Christ to the world, to beckon others to fully become what they were made to be – the image of God.

to do when it comes to living out the love of God. Our understanding and our reflection may be very dim, but there is hope as we strive to be the body of Christ. The God who holds us will hold us to the end: now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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