I have lived here in the Philippines for over 10 years. For more than half that time I did not like the taste of papayas. I generally avoided papayas, but when I had them I was disappointed (or confirmed in my past disappointment).
One day, however, a few years ago, I had a papaya and it was delicious. I found out that papayas can be great and tasty. And since then, I have discovered other tasty papayas. It made me wonder if some other tropical fruits that I had been disappointed in before, guapple (apple guava), macopa (Java apple), and camachile, may be good if one gets the right one.
But the surprising thing that I found is ever since I have tasted a good papaya, I now like papayas generally— even the ones that I would not have liked before. What appears to have happened is that I can now taste the goodness in the papaya, even a “bad papaya,” that reminds me of what a papaya CAN be.
This illustration makes me think of the “imago Dei” the image of God in us. Some theologians argue about what the “image of God” is in Man… often to silly results. Classic Mormon theology says that the image of God means that we look like God (a bit guilty of taking metaphoric language too far). Others have said that the term within the age it was written speaks more to the issue of authority. To speak in someone’s name, or to have their image (sort of like a signet ring or a seal) is a description of one’s authority. This, perhaps has some truth to it… I am not an expert on the Hebrew Bible. Some other theologians say that the Image of God says something about who God created us to be… but in the Fall, we have completely lost that image. I don’t really find this view any more credible than the Mormon view.
Merold Westphal describes postmodernism in terms of the recognition that we cannot “peak over God’s shoulder.” The idea is that if there is ultimate reality, ultimate truth, it is perceived in an unobstructed manner by God alone. For the rest of us, we are too limited and too subjective to view things as they really are. So what?
Consider the term “Image of God.” The term demands a perspective. But whose? Genesis 1, where the term is used, centers on God’s perspective. Our finiteness and flaws limit our ability to see ourselves as God sees us. We are created in the Image of God because God sees us as we are, not as we see ourselves.
So what does that have to do with papayas? And what does that have to do with missions (since this is, mostly, a missions blog)?
Once I tasted a good papaya, I could identify the goodness of that papaya even in papayas that were not all that good. God created us in the Image of God (Imago Dei). Although we may have fallen and are flawed in so many ways, I believe that God, whose perception sees beyond the subjective to what is true and ultimate, sees that image in us and is acting to restore us so that image is obvious to all, even ourselves. In other words, sin does not eradicate the Image of God in us, but distorts our ability to see what God can see.
In missions, we are often encouraged to focus on the fallenness of man– our flaws and limitations. After all, most evangelistic presentations focus most on our sinfulness and God’s response to that sinfulness. But as we walk around the world, seeing different people in different cultures, doing and saying all different things… we need to imagine ourselves “peeking over God’s shoulder” seeing the Imago Dei in each person. Sure, a lot of things may have obscured the beauty of God’s creation, and more specifically our creation in and by God, but I believe that if we can see His image in each person first of all, we are well positioned to act according to His love for His people. It is easier to love as God loves if we can see as He see.