“Let us create human beings in our own image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
To be made in the image of God is one of the greatest blessings that we have received from the Lord, but what does it mean? And who has been created in this image? Jews? Christians? Actually, it’s all of us. From the Buddhist, to the Atheist, black and white, straight and gay- we are all created in God’s own image. This fact is indissoluble; it’s a part of our nature that is to us what divinity is to God. To be man is to be in God’s image, and to not be made in God’s image is to not be human. But we’re all so different, how can we have a sole template in God?
When first created, man was actually immortal; we were never intended to know the sting of death, but to live in joyous companionship with God. We would have seen Him face to face, known His voice, sat in His presence. Sitting with the Lord would’ve been as ‘normal’ as seeing your best friend at the weekend, a standard occurrence. Man would’ve been immortal, possessing God’s spirit in us, sharing in this communicable quality of God. That isn’t to say we would have been eternal, because we still would have had a beginning. Instead, our lives would have no end, no pain or suffering, sickness or frailty.
As human beings, had we remained in this initial grace, we’d have never known sin or evil. The thought of wickedness would’ve been as foreign to us as it is to God, lacking a desire to cause harm, war, distress or pain to God or any other person. We would have had free will as we do now, but without any inclination that the choice to do evil is there. For those who say that isn’t true freedom, I’d say we shouldn’t measure our freedom by how much wickedness we can do. Our true freedom ‘is’ freedom from all sin, hate, maliciousness.
Man, in his perfected nature, would be ambassadors for God, ruling over creation with fairness, sharing equally all the bounty of the earth. More than this, we would have had perfect compassion for all of creation, never seeking to destroy it for self gain. Man was created to be the gardener, the steward of all created things, as God watched on in delight at His creation’s perfect joy and bliss.
After man’s fall, we lost these wonderful attributes and all the blessings that came with them. Our nature as human beings was wounded, tarnished by sin, but not utterly destroyed. We still retain our moral truths, our free will. However, these things are hindered by sin, our moral compass is never pointing true north. This is the point of the Incarnation: to restore that blessing from God, to grant us life eternal as intended, and to make us a perfect reflection of God’s glory.
You see, sin is the weed that we planted in the Garden, but this garden is our hearts and souls. Like any garden, our souls still have beauty, a goodness and radiance about them. But also like the weed riddled garden, that beauty is marred by the weeds of sin, distracting and ugly. This leads me to a truly wonderful moment after the Resurrection. To give context, Jesus has suffered and died, having been buried in the tomb. The woman, Mary Magdalene, is going to tend to the body of Christ, and possibly tend to the tomb itself, just as we would tend to a grave. She is unaware that Christ has risen, so when she arrives at the tomb, she’s obviously distraught that His body is missing.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” – John 20:11-15
Mary’s thought always gives me shivers: she believed Jesus to be ‘the gardener.’ I actually think this should be one of Jesus’ divine titles! The weeds of sin that had choked the life from us, that had tarnished God’s intention for His creation, had finally been cut away by Christ: the Gardener!
That beautiful image that we had been created in was finally promised to us again, conveyed to us by Christ Himself. We eat freely from the Tree of Life, restored and renewed. Jesus didn’t come to the world to give us life as we had known it, but the true life, full of abundance and hope (John 10:10.)
When we are baptized, we are clothed in Christ, putting our own sin away and taking on His righteousness (Isa 61:10). We don’t just reflect God’s glory anymore, we have that glory living inside of us, true life, true love, true happiness. We’re not just some restoration of an old creation, but a new creation entirely (2 Cor 5:17), so becoming the shadow and type of what is coming. We know that there will come a day when all creation as we know it, marred and wounded, will be swept away as the unclean thing. God will make us a new Heaven, a new Earth. This is not a restoration of things before our Fall, but something new entirely. Think of it: there are Saints who have gone before us, and they see Heaven now. But they, like us, still haven’t seen this ‘new Heaven’: they have to wait as we do, and Christ will reveal it to all His children at the same time, to be equally in awe together.
We will put away sin, leave it behind as a broken thing no longer drawing us to it. Here, in this new Heaven, where we once again see Jesus face to face, we’ll reflect His glory back to Him, taking part in the Eucharistic meal that gives us life, thanking the Gardener that He pruned the weeds of sin.