Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"On Twinkies, Root Beer, and the Image of God"

Text: Genesis 1:26-27

Colossians 1:9-20

 

            A little boy wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long journey to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with everything he’d need for the trip: his Transformers shirt, some Legos, a half full box of Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer.

When he traveled about three blocks from home, he came across an elderly woman. She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to her on the park bench and opened his suitcase. He was about to take a swig of root beer when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry. So he silently offered her a Twinkie. She gratefully accepted it and gave him a big grin. He was so enchanted by her kind eyes and smile that he wanted to see it again. He offered her a root beer. Again, she smiled even bigger than before. The boy was delighted! They sat there a long while eating and smiling, but never saying a word. As the sun began to set behind the trees , the boy realized how tired he was. So he got up and proceeded to leave. But before he had gotten more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman, and gave her a huge hug. In return, she gave him the biggest smile ever.

            When the boy got back home and opened the kitchen door, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “Young man, what did you do today that made you so happy?” He immediately replied, “Mom, I had lunch with God!” Before his mother could answer, he continued, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

            Meanwhile, on the other side of town, an elderly woman – also radiant with joy – returned to her home. Her daughter was stunned by the look of peace on her face and asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?” She replied, “Why, I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” But before her daughter got a word in, she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”

            (Read Genesis 1:26-27)

            This short snippet of Scripture from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible has been subject of so small amount of scholarly discussion. At the heart of the debate is: What is meant by “in the image of God.”

            The context of these verses seem to indicate that being in the “image of God” sets us human beings in a position of rule or jurisdiction over the created order. It suggests that God has mandated for us a unique and honored role as caretakers of the earth which we did not create, but into which we are firmly planted. The author of Genesis puts it this way: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’” The remainder of the first chapter of Genesis goes on with what we might call “a mandate to stewardship of the earth.”    Some have proposed that “image of God” speaks of our peerless capacity to exercise our powers of creativity, even as the opening of Genesis recounts the creative acts of God “in the beginning.” Like God, we are esteemed to have the ability, the wherewithal, the vision to take that which is chaotic and put it in order; to take that which is without form and to fashion it into something attractive and useful.

            Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann understands “image of God” to refer to an intimacy and spiritual oneness between God and God’s crowning creation; an intimacy and oneness which nothing else in the created order is able to share with its Creator. Brueggemann also posits that “image of God” suggests a special freedom of will which God allows and builds into the human spirit. It’s worth hearing Brueggemann’s words: “There is one way in which God is imaged in the world, and only one: humanness! This is the only creature, the only part of creation, which discloses to us something about the essential reality of God. This God is not known through any cast or molten image. God is known peculiarly through this creature who exists in the realm of free history, where power is received, decisions are made, and commitments are honored. God is not imaged in anything fixed, but in the freedom of human persons to be faithful, kind, and gracious.”

            The apostle Paul connects “image of God” with the person of Jesus Christ, and humans being transformed and conformed into the image of the very Son of God – living as Jesus lived, thinking as Jesus thought, acting as Jesus acted, being touched deeply by the things which deeply touched Jesus. In Paul’s infamous chapter 15 of 1st Corinthians, discussing humankind’s ultimate and eternal destiny, he writes, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [alluding to Adam], we will also bear the image of the man of heaven [alluding to Jesus]. Paul is claiming here that being in the “image of God” is synonymous with being in the image of Jesus Christ – not only in the physical sense [ten fingers and ten toes], but more importantly in the spiritual sense.

            This is much unlike the shallow albeit heated debate between Archie Bunker and his self professed atheist son-in-law Mike Stivic. Mike begins the salvo as he argues that we cannot see God, nor any evidence of God, although he concedes that he has no problem with the idea of God, only what people do in God’s name. Archie fires back that we can see God. “Look Meathead,” Archie responds. “It tells me in my Bible that I’m created in the image of God.” Mike with a quizzical look on his face asks, “You mean God looks like you?!” With a smug look on his face, Archie replies, “Well, I’m not saying that you couldn’t tell the two of us apart.”

            “Image of God” has nothing to do with externalities. “Image of God” is a spiritual image which resides on the inside of us, at the level of mind, heart, and soul. It’s an inward posturing which, at its ideal, is in perfect harmony with the will of God. So it is that God places us upon the earth to be responsible stewards, not exercising a domination over God’s creation which plunders and pillages, but exercising dominion over God’s creation which makes maximum use of this gift of creation in a caring, and just, and altogether conscientious way.

            Moreover, God extends to us the possibility of intimacy and oneness with the Creator of the universe, at its best through the person of Jesus Christ as an example of the perfect human; the prototypical Adam. And God calls us to reflect God’s very image, Christ’s very image, in the way we live our lives and relate to others. Hence a woman in a park sees “image of God” in the purity, sensitivity, compassion, and generosity of a little boy with a suitcase full of Twinkies and root beer. Likewise, a little boy sees “image of God” in the neediness, the kindness, the receptiveness, the smile and eyes of an old woman staring at some pigeons.

            Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the high theology and scholarship of “image of God” that we miss its reality which lies so close at hand. It’s an image of spirit which is readily available to see, and touch, and be touched by. How often we underestimate the awesome power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest acts of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around. People come into our lives for a reason, a season, a lifetime. Embrace all equally, for we are embracing that very “image of God.” This is the good news of who we are, created by God, beloved by God, hugged by God, and created in God’s image. Let us always display that image proudly and well, and to look for it in others.

Let us pray: Thank You, our Creator and Sustainer, for stamping us with Your image, that we would reflect in our live those gifts of Your Spirit – gifts such as kindness, gentleness, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, patience – all which flow from a heart of love. May we daily mirror Your image, and the image of Your Son Jesus Christ, to whose spiritual likeness we’re called, and in whose name we pray. Amen.