Suddenly the bird darted out of the tree and away, and instantly he thought of the “fly buzzing about in the sun’s rays” that Hippolyte had talked of; how that it knew its place and was a participator in the universal life, while he alone was an “outcast.”…An old forgotten memory awoke in his brain, and suddenly burst into clearness and light. It was a recollection of Switzerland, during the first year of his cure, the very first months…He climbed the mountain-side, one sunny morning, and wandered long and aimlessly with a certain thought in his brain, which would not become clear. Above him was the blazing sky, below, the lake; all around was the horizon, clear and infinite. He looked out upon this, long and anxiously. He remembered how he had stretched out his arms towards the beautiful, boundless blue of the horizon, and wept, and wept. What had so tormented him was the idea that he was a stranger to all this, that he was outside this glorious festival.
The Imago Dei Principle
What was this universe? What was this grand, eternal pageant to which he had yearned from his childhood up, and in which he could never take part? Every morning the same magnificent sun; every morning the same rainbow in the waterfall; every evening the same glow on the snow-mountains.
Every little fly that buzzed in the sun’s rays was a singer in the universal chorus, “knew its place, and was happy in it.” Every blade of grass grew and was happy. Everything knew its path and loved it, went forth with a song and returned with a song; only he knew nothing, understood nothing, neither men nor words, nor any of nature’s voices; he was a stranger and an outcast.
–Prince Myshikin, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The concept that God created man in his own image really fascinates me. From the Christian perspective, it is so undeniably true. As we look upon the created natural world, only one created thing or being loves, thinks rationally, creates with practically no bounds, and chooses freely — man. These attributes reflect only one other being or essence, the Father. How amazing that God privileged man with this!
But what is so strange about it all is that other than the writer of Genesis, Paul, from my menial research, is the only biblical author that mentions man being created in the image of God. Paul’s focus on the subject centers on the fact that the faithful begin to transform into the image of God once they lay “aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being <sup class="footnote" value="[i]”>renewed to a true knowledge” (Col. 3:9-10). While, on the other hand, Gen. 5, which occurs after man’s fall from perfection in the image, refers to Adam’s fatherhood as him becoming “the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image.” Genesis seems to show that the very act of childbirth, even from the most fallen of the fallen, corresponds to some sort of participation in this imago dei principle. So, while all, whether a follower of Christ or not, can participate in that image because it innately dwells within us, only those who truly follow him begin to transform into it. The indwelling of the Spirit enables that work (i.e., sanctification). Does that finding have any substantial consequence? No, probably not, but some form of significance might derive from it.
With that brief quasi-aside, lets focus on The Idiot and its relation to the imago dei principle. Before I began this particular writing endeavor, I felt like my conclusion would somehow or someway look something like this: “why can’t my path be like the one of the fly? or the sun? or the grass? Why can’t every life instance and experience, like that of the natural, be a full and complete participation of God’s glory? In essence, why can’t I be perfect like the rising and setting of the sun is perfect in time, distance, order, etc?” I am like a whiny Job without the nagging wife, inconsiderate friends, and, of yeah, the intense physical, emotional, and spiritual turmoil.
So as I have sat here at Starbucks the last two or so hours reflecting upon this passage and the verses above, I have been moved to think about The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. Oh how I wish I had my copy with me, but yea, my memory will have to do, even though it is a gross injustice and simplification to his actual words.
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis devotes a whole chapter to animal pain. He does this in order to distinguish between the beauty of bearing God’s image and the natural participation in God’s glory that the rest of creation falls under. An animal receives pain and suffering only because of a natural instinct woven within its very fabric. This pain happens at the atomic level, when something goes haywire with physical. This is an important distinction because human beings experience pain and suffering not only on the physical level, but also on a soulful level. This “soulful” pain occurs because of the imago dei principle. We were created with divine-like attributes that enable us to love, which enables us to empathize, which also enables us to feel pain. But because of the Fall, this soulful pain and suffering also occurs because of our freedom to sin. An animal does not have the privilege to be free, so therefore it does not have the freedom to sin. But in our freedom, we do sin and cause pain to others at a metaphysical level as well as feeling pain at a metaphysical level.
Why is all of this important? One, because I want to avoid pain and suffering at that metaphysical level, just as everyone else does. If we were to become like the fly, or the grass, or the sun, we lose our divine attributes and only experience the reflexive pain that the natural feels. Secondly, and worst of all, the imago dei principle and all that falls under it is the only thing that allows us to recognize, understand, and ultimately love the Father. So while I feel like an outsider and outcast in some ways, like Myshikin and Hippolyte do, I can place my footsteps in the footsteps of Christ — the one perfect example who lived as both the sun and the man.
Nature might scream the glory of God, but they don’t know it. We can look at man, the ones redeemed and slowly becoming like their Creator and the ones who reflect it unknowingly, and say, “we are like God, so therefore we are loved by God.” Just as in marriage when the fulfillment of the man and women’s love is the conception of one in their own image, so is man in is existence that derives from the divine Creator ( think Adam begetting Seth).