In Latin, the phrase is Imago Dei, “In the Image of God,” and you will the Latin words recited in literature and chiseled above doors.
Imago Dei: the words have thundered down through the centuries with great power, because they recite a great truth about ourselves—a truth that we need frequently to hear.
Imago Dei: we are created in the image of God—in his own blessed image, he fashioned us. We look like God.
It might not always be easy to see. Frankly, sometimes we look quite a bit like God, and at other times we look very little like Him. But as you look around this room, you will see people who reflect something of God’s image—more or less. You will see it most clearly in the lives of those people who have touched your own life. You will say: “I certainly see the Image of God in the kindness of that woman” or “I see the Image of God in the devoted service of that man.” But you won’t see all the image of God that is reflected in this room unless you know us all very well. And you won’t see the total Image of God, because that image is eroded a bit in each of us.
The hard thing to remember is that God created all of us inhis image. We can almost believe that the church officer or Sunday school teacher was created in God’s image. But the fact is that even Skid Row derelicts were created in God’s image; even international terrorists were created inGod’s image; even Mafia hit-men were created in God’s image; even Adolf Hitler was created in God’s image.
Forces of life—forces of evil work constantly on us to erode the Image of God. Just as chemical air pollution and acid rain are slowly but surely dissolving the marble facades of ancient Italian statuary, so also is our “Image of God” always at risk. In some of us, the erosion is slight and the image is still quite apparent. In the Hitler’s of the world, God’s features have been so eroded, mutilated, and distorted as to leave only a grotesque monster.
We are eroded too—more or less eroded. But Christ comes to restore the image. Isn’t that what he meant when he told Nicodemus: “You must be born anew” (John 3:7).
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The restored image—that was what Paul was celebrating in this passage in First Timothy. He had been the worst of sinners, blaspheming God and murdering Christians. And then God appointed (Paul) to his service. Paul explains this strange appointment by saying:
The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
In other words, Paul said that God’s image was so completely eroded in him that God selected Paul as his subject just to demonstrate his power. God transformed this most terrible of sinners into this greatest of Apostles. He did so to demonstrate the potential of his miracle for us. No matter how terribly we have damaged the Image of God in our own lives, God can touch us and we will be fully restored.
And so we have the prayer of the Geneva Psalter—the old Protestant hymnbook which was based on the Book of Psalms:
“Print thine image pure and holy On my heart, O Lord of Grace; So that nothing high or lowly Thy blest likeness can efface. Let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me, And the Lord of all creation, Be my refuge and salvation.”
“Print thine image pure and holy on my heart, O Lord of Grace!” This is a bold prayer. It doesn’t ask God for a quick fix—a cosmetic touch-up; it asks God to come in one bold stroke and to imprint his image deeply in our hearts.
That is an appropriate prayer, because it invites God to use his full range of powers on us. Unlike the residents of Venice, who pump water into the ground to prop up their dying city and who use plaster and cement to build back the nose on an eroded statue, God is able with one quick stroke of miracle to make a full and complete restoration of the Image of God.
The picture in my mind as I hear these words, “Print thy image,” is not God with a cosmetic brush in his hand, touching up the places where God’s image has melted and run down our faces. The picture inmy mind is not of a plastic surgeon painstakingly softening a line here or restoring a line there. The picture in my mind as I read these words: “Print thine image,” is that of a giant mold into which we step, which then clangs shut—bending us into a new shape, probably painfully—and then re-opening to allow us to emerge, fully restored by God’s grace.
But Jesus provides a better image when he says: “You must be born anew.”
“So that nothing high or lowly Thy blest likeness can efface.”
Kipling spoke of meeting triumph and disaster, and treating the two imposters just the same.
Triumphs and disasters! Here are two of the forces that threaten to erode us. High things and low things. Prosperity and poverty.
• The pain of disaster can bring us low and turn us away from God—making us think that he doesn’t love us anymore.
• The joy of prosperity can elevate and lead us away from God—making us think that we don’t need him anymore.
The forces of life and evil work to distort the Image of God in us—like a cup of acid in the face. But the same God who makes possible the miracle of restoration—of rebirth—provides the Holy Spirit to protect us day by day—to help us to maintain God’s image—so we pray:
“Let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me, And the Lord of all creation, Be my refuge and salvation.”
If most of the world is to see God, it is only through our lives and those of other Christians. If they are to know the love of God, it will be only as they feel us loving them. If they are to know the power of faith, it can be only by experiencing the power of our faith. As the poet said:
“We are the only Bible The careless world will read. We are the sinner’s gospel. We are the scoffer’s creed. We are the Lord’s last message, Given inword and deed. What if the print is blurred?”
What, indeed, if the print is blurred? If someone’s only hope of seeing the Gospel message is reading it through our lives, what if the print is blurred? That would be tragic, wouldn’t it!
So let us pray:
“Print thine image pure and holy On (our hearts), O Lord of Grace; So that nothing high or lowly Thy blest likeness can efface. Let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me, And the Lord of all creation, Be (our) refuge and salvation. Amen.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.