Suffering and the Lost Image of God

Continuing the thread from a few posts back:

As unwilling as we may be, and as unpleasant as it is to admit that it is the humans who have the blood on their hands (by which we are included in that humanity), we recognize that man’s freedom to choose and then his choice to rebel against God has brought about so much suffering in our world.  Yet there is suffering that comes from other directions, be it weather gone wild or bad genes or an epidemic or whatever its source may be.  So where does this suffering come from?

Perhaps it is worthwhile to again go back to the beginning.  God declares that mankind is created in His image and likeness [Genesis 1:26], but why?  As I identify in my book Covenant: The Blood is The Life, one reason seems to be that we are a trinity (body, soul, and spirit) which, using the material of a creature, reflects the Trinity that Jehovah is.  As well, the Hebrew word for “likeness” is derived from the word for “Blood,” which in turn is synonymous for “Life” (or “Soul”) [Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23], and so, again, we are meant to be an image or a reflection of His Life (Soul).

But there seems to be an even greater sense at work here.  St Paul ties the image to the concept of God’s Glory: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the Glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same Image from glory to Glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” [II Corinthians 3:18].  So, we are to represent His goodness, Covenant relationship, grace, mercy, steadfast love, forgiveness and justice [Exodus 33 & 34 – as discussed in a previous post on “Glory“].  In a very real sense, as if we were a spiritual window, when creation looks at us, it should see God – in His Glory, in His Trinity (cooperation), and in His Life.

Out of this foundation God then turns to Adam and Eve, and says, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”   Mankind is now not only God’s image but is also His agent, His ambassador to this creation.  Adam and Eve’s dominion is authorized only in so far as God’s image or reflection or representation allows.  And as the agent of Jehovah, or the go-between between Him and creation, humanity also is to be the high priest of creation, bringing its praise and worship (as we see, for instance, in the Psalms) to God.

But, after the Fall, when creation looks to mankind, it no longer sees God’s Glory.  Rather than having its pipeline to Jehovah, it has become rudderless, itself drifting and wandering.  Paul identifies the situation as that
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the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. [Romans 8:20-22]

In fact, God declares that nature shall rebel against the rebel (mankind):

Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground … [Genesis 3:17-19]

So, although we have not personally caused the hurricane or tsunami, yet our continued rebellion against Jehovah participates in the responsibility for the catastrophes that plague our world – because when creation looks even to us, it does not find the clear image or representation of God that it needs to regain its balance.  Instead, too often it finds selfishness, greed, plunder, and destruction – the chaos in creation is but a reflection of the chaos in the human heart.  So even though we may not appreciate it being said this way, but yes, we are a cause (again) for suffering in this world.

However, the Romans passage above tells us that there is hope: creation will finally have its agent of God back when God’s children come into their “glory,” who as Paul already above identifies are being transformed into the Glory of the Image of God.  Still, that cannot happen on our own – we have seen the mess we make on our own.  The Holy Spirit must place us into the only One, Jesus, Who could truly reflect the Glory of God: “we have seen His Glory, Glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” [John 1:14].

Because of Him,

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed … And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. [I Corinthians 15:51-52, 49]

In other words, the answer to this suffering of the world is still to be found in the Baby in the manger and the King of the Jews found upon a cross.

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