Metaphors for man as the image of God

One metaphor for man’s being an image of God is how a portrait or statue is an image, another is how the mirror is an image of an object. The first metaphor speaks to the way in which the image is invariant or absolute, and so can be taken as describing humans as rational, spiritual, persons, or communal beings. The second metaphor describes the image as relational and variant. Being in God’s image in this sense involves the orientation of one’s life and action toward or away from God.

Both metaphors describe different ways in which man might live according to the spirit or the flesh, i.e. either according to God or according to man. By the first metaphor, living according to God is to see the person as a reminder of a highest good but not as the highest good himself, which is the same distinction as between venerating a statue and worshiping an idol. Again, if we understand the image as an image on currency (as Christ does) man is an image in the sense of having value only from the authority of the one who issues him and sends him forth, the way the value of currencies is relative to the strength of the regime that issues them.

According to the mirror metaphor, man lives according to himself when he is bent in upon himself, like a U-shaped funhouse mirror receiving its own reflection. In this sense the metaphor illustrates three things:

1.) The distortion of the world. The funhouse morror makes the beautiful look absurd and grotesque, and the repulsive look attractive. Rather than taking in the world as it is, it only takes it in according to its own distortion. To look at the funhouse-mirror image as such is only to learn about how the mirror is bent, not about how reality looks in itself.

2.) The infinitization of the finite. When one reflective surface faces another, any image that reflects off of one surface is becomes infinite and increasingly smaller. When man lives according to himself he will chase after a finite good that becomes smaller and smaller every time he finds another image of it, though he chases after these images ad infinitum. 

3.) Turning light into fire. When light hits a curved reflective surface it can’t escape, but concentrates in toward a burning focus. A man who lives according to himself turns divine light into a divine fire that burns and consumes.


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