Looking Back, Looking Forward

I have a friend who keeps telling me he wishes I would write more of my own words when I put together my blog posts. I used to do that in the early years of my blog post writing, but I discovered there was really no need to “reinvent the wheel” when so many others who have more knowledge and experience then I do have already written words worth reading.

When I was in grad school (twice–I earned a master’s degree in 1991 the first time around, and I made it through to the dissertation phase working on a doctorate in 1993 the second time around), I learned that the most important aspect of writing is to be sure and give credit to the source of any material you use in your writings, and I do that in my blog posts. In fact, it was in grad school where I learned how to put together what I post on my blog posts today. Hopefully, my blog posts are a bit more interesting then most grad school research papers and dissertations.

I first started this blog over a decade ago when I was in the throes of a massive job search after losing my last professional position in my career field back in 2009. After working 20 years in my profession which began when I was in grad school the first time working on my master’s degree (I was in my late 30’s at the time), I didn’t think it would take me long to find another position. As it turned out, I had no clue that six years later at the age of 62, I’d still be unemployed, and I’d be forced to apply for Social Security (at the earliest age one can start to receive it which is 62) just to have any income again.

When I lost that job back in 2009 I had no idea (nor did it even occur to me for the first couple of years of my massive job search after I lost that job), that I would never again be given the opportunity to work and earn a living in my career field, and I was single, self-supporting, and I was still at least 10 years away from the normal retirement age to collect full Social Security benefits (at age 66). Sometimes as I look back on these past dozen years and all that I have gone through, I am amazed at how I have survived since I never did find another job. And during this time I went for three years and two months with no income at all between the time I received my last unemployment check in May 2011 (from when I lost that job back in 2009) and I received my first Social Security check that arrived back in July 2014. Both amounted to around $1000/mo in income, which is a whole lot less then I earned when I was working.

What lead me to this particular pondering this morning was the title of a brand new book coming out in bookstores today that I received in an email from Barnes & Nobles. I smiled when I read both the title and I saw the illustration on the cover. It is titled, I Used to Have a Plan But Life Had Other Ideas,” by Instagram rising star Alessandra Olanow, an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.  Her new book is also available on Amazon.com.

The review of her new book on Amazon.com opens with this sentence: “I Know This Too Shall Pass. (But It Would Be Helpful to Know When).” After this past year of 2020 starting with the Covid-19 pandemic in March, I’m sure there are millions who are wondering the same thing. The Amazon.com review states:

“After a series of events left her a divorced single mother questioning herself, her relationships, and basically, everything she thought was true about her “picture-perfect” life, Alessandra Olanow began drawing and posting illustrations on Instagram that reflected her feelings and struggles to right her life. She chronicled her journey of healing, expressing the shock, delusion, denial, self-pity, and self-doubt she experienced and the self-empathy and forgiveness that ultimately helped her regain a sense of self—but stronger, more fearless, and more hopeful than before. Her charming illustrations and keen, memorable observations—struck a chord. Within a year, her audience [on Instagram] grew dramatically, from 9,500 to 157,000 followers, including celebrities Katie Couric, Jennifer Garner, Elise Loehnen (chief content officer at Goop), the poet Joao Doederlein, and Joanna Goddard (founder of A Cup of Jo).” (Quote source here.) As of today, she has 287,000 followers on Instagram.

As I read the opening sentence and short description of Alexandra Olanow’s circumstances that lead her to eventually publish her first book, I kept mulling over the phrase “this too shall pass” as we never really know what will follow when what we are currently going through does finally pass, and there are no guarantees that what comes next will necessarily be better, or worse, or good, or bad, or indifferent.

While the phrase, “this too shall pass,” has a Biblical sound to it, it does not come from the Bible. In answer to the question Is ‘this too shall pass’ found in the Bible?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

The expression “this too shall pass” has all the earmarks of a wise Bible saying, but it is found nowhere in any Bible translation. It has been quoted by well-meaning friends and family members in an effort to comfort someone going through a tough time. Although not directly from the Bible, “this too shall pass” is a timely reminder that the difficult season we may be going through will not last forever. It mirrors the thought of Galatians 6:9, which says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

The origins of “this too shall pass” are unknown. Some trace the phrase back to Persian Sufi poets, while others credit King Solomon, although it is not recorded in any of his biblical works. “This too shall pass” would fit nicely into Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, especially the third chapter, which begins this way: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” The theme of this chapter is that life has seasons and none of them last; therefore, people should enjoy the earthly life God has given them because “this too shall pass.”

“This too shall pass” also reminds us of the biblical mandate to develop endurance (2 Timothy 2:312Hebrews 12:7). When life is rough and things are not going our way, we can be tempted to give up. James 1:2–4 reminds us that, when we endure trials, we develop character that is pleasing to God. It helps during tough seasons to remember that, regardless of how dark life seems or how painful our suffering, even “this too shall pass.”

The proverbial saying “this too shall pass” may not be stated in the Bible, but the idea is reflected throughout its pages. Our lives on earth are a mere vapor that will quickly pass (James 4:14). “This too shall pass” reminds us that we must be about our Father’s business while there is still time (see John 9:4). (Quote source here.)

Comparing life to a vapor, as mentioned above, is from the pages of the Bible. In answer to the question What does it mean that life is a vapor?” GotQuestions.org provides the following answer:

James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” A vapor is a fine mist like fog. It quickly burns away when the sun comes up. It has no substance and leaves nothing behind. Comparing our lives to a vapor illustrates how fleeting our days on this earth are.

Life can feel endless at times, but the Bible reminds us that, compared to eternity, an individual life on earth is like a vapor chased away by the morning sun. It is important to recognize the brevity of life so that we don’t squander the time we’ve been given. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” God wants us to live with purpose, recognizing that the clock is counting down to the moment we step through death’s portal and enter our eternal state. At that moment, the books are closed, and we will begin to reap the consequences of our choices on earth (Hebrews 9:27Romans 14:10; cf. Luke 16:19–31).

During our brief stay on earth, we should live with eternity always before us. Whether we live 5 years or 105, our lives are still as fleeting as a vapor. Even Jesus felt the urgency of being about God’s work while the opportunity remained. He said, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Recognizing that our lives are like a vapor interjects a serious note into our daily activities. Human beings in privileged parts of the world are given to squandering time on frivolities that have no lasting value. While entertainments and relaxation are important parts of a healthy life, they must never be our primary reason for living. Our lives are like a vapor, and that means we may not have tomorrow; living always with that knowledge keeps us focused on the things that matter. Our prayer every morning can be, “Lord, thank you for another day. May I do something today that will have eternal significance.” When we live with eternity in view, we are more interested in storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). Knowing that life is but a vapor causes us to be uncomfortable with wasted time and restless to invest ourselves in God’s work.

In his metaphor of life being a vapor, James was reminding his readers that they should not become overconfident about their plans because, ultimately, they were not in charge of their plans. The God who rules all things may overrule our ideas. If we are not holding our earthly treasures loosely, the overriding of our plans can feel devastating (James 4:13–16). God often allows unpleasantries into our lives to remind us that this world is not our home (Philippians 1:273:20). Our time here is like a vapor, and then it’s gone. Like an exhalation in cold weather, our lives show up for a brief moment and quickly disappear from this earth. All those born into the family of God (John 3:3) will, at death, gather in their eternal home and enjoy forever the rewards of serving the Lord on earth (1 Corinthians 3:12–13). (Quote course here.)

In Matthew 6, Jesus brings up five specific topics that are a part of his longer “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7. Those topics are (1) do not practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-4); (2) how to pray (Matthew 6:5-15); (3) how to fast (Matthew 6:16-18); (4) choosing which you will serve–God or money–as you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24); and the topic most related to this blog post–(5) do not worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Since context is very important, the following passage includes verse 24 to give context to verses 25-34 (it is taken from The Message Bible but the links above include both the NIV and MSG versions side-by-side):

You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Quote source here.)

As we end this year of 2020 that has brought so many unwanted challenges, turmoil, and heartache unlike any other year in recent history, and we look to the new year of 2021 about to begin, may we focus our attention on God who already knows in advance what each day of this new year holds for each one of us. I’ll end this post with the prayer Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NKJV):

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom…

And the power . . .

And the glory forever . . .

Amen . . . .

YouTube Video: “Keep Me in the Moment” by Jeremy Camp:

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“A Christmas Carol” Revisited

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote his classic novel (actually, a novella), A Christmas Carol,” in only six weeks, and it was first published on December 19, 1843. The first printing sold out in a matter of days.  Since that time it has never been out of print. Biography.com states: “Charles Dickens was a British novelist, journalist, editor, illustrator and social commentator who wrote such beloved classic novels as ‘Oliver Twist,’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ ‘David Copperfield,’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’…. Dickens is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century. Among his accomplishments, he has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian-era underclass, helping to bring about social change.” (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 12, 2019, on Thought.com titled, Why Dickens Wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’,” by Robert MacNamara, history expert and history editor on Amazon.com, and a former magazine journalist and fact checker for several major publications, he writes:

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved works of 19th-century literature, and the story’s enormous popularity helped make Christmas a major holiday in Victorian Britain. When Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in late 1843, he had ambitious purposes in mind, yet he could never have imagined the profound impact his story would have.

Dickens had already achieved great fame, yet his most recent novel wasn’t selling well and he feared his success had peaked. Indeed, he faced some serious financial problems as Christmas 1843 approached.

Beyond his own worries, Dickens was keenly attuned to the profound misery of the working poor in England. A visit to the grimy industrial city of Manchester motivated him to tell the story of greedy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, who would be transformed by the Christmas spirit.

Dickens rushed “A Christmas Carol” into print by Christmas 1843, and it became a phenomenon….

Beyond his personal reasons for writing “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens felt a strong need to comment on the enormous gap between the rich and poor in Victorian Britain.

On the night of Oct. 5, 1843, Dickens gave a speech in Manchester, England, at a benefit for the Manchester Athenaeum, an organization that brought education and culture to the working masses. Dickens, who was 31 at the time, shared the stage with Benjamin Disraeli, a novelist who would later become Britain’s prime minister. Addressing the working-class residents of Manchester affected Dickens deeply. Following his speech he took a long walk, and while thinking of the plight of exploited child workers he conceived the idea for “A Christmas Carol.”

Returning to London, Dickens took more walks late at night, working out the story in his head. The miser Ebenezer Scrooge would be visited by the ghost of his former business partner Marley and also the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Finally seeing the error of his greedy ways, Scrooge would celebrate Christmas and give a raise to the employee he had been exploiting, Bob Cratchit.

Dickens wanted the book to be available by Christmas. He wrote it with astonishing speed, finishing it in six weeks….

When the book appeared just before Christmas, it was immediately popular with the reading public as well as with critics. British author William Makepeace Thackeray, who later rivaled Dickens as a writer of Victorian novels, wrote that “A Christmas Carol” was “a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.”

The story of Scrooge’s redemption touched readers deeply, and the message Dickens wanted to convey of concern for those less fortunate struck a deep chord. The Christmas holiday began to be seen as a time for family celebrations and charitable giving.

There is little doubt that Dickens’ story and its widespread popularity helped Christmas become established as a major holiday in Victorian Britain. [The following is taken from an insert in the article]:

The Impact of ‘A Christmas Carol’

  • The book was immediately popular with the public, becoming perhaps the most famous literary work associated with Christmas. It elevated the popularity of Christmas, which wasn’t the major holiday we know, and established the idea of Christmas charity toward those less fortunate.
  • Dickens intended the story as a strong condemnation of greed, and the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge provided a popular optimistic message.
  • Scrooge became one of the most famous characters in literature.
  • Dickens himself became associated with Christmas in the public mind.
  • “A Christmas Carol” was transformed into stage plays and later films and television productions. (Quote source here.)’

A brief summary of A Christmas Carol for anyone not familiar with the story is provided below by SparkNotes:

A mean-spirited, miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his counting-house on a frigid Christmas Eve. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivers in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to spend money on heating coals for a fire. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, pays his uncle a visit and invites him to his annual Christmas party. Two portly gentlemen also drop by and ask Scrooge for a contribution to their charity. Scrooge reacts to the holiday visitors with bitterness and venom, spitting out an angry “Bah! Humbug!” in response to his nephew’s “Merry Christmas!”

Later that evening, after returning to his dark, cold apartment, Scrooge receives a chilling visitation from the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, looking haggard and pallid, relates his unfortunate story. As punishment for his greedy and self-serving life his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth weighted down with heavy chains. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate. Marley informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him during each of the next three nights. After the wraith disappears, Scrooge collapses into a deep sleep.

He wakes moments before the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a strange childlike phantom with a brightly glowing head. The spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey into the past to previous Christmases from the curmudgeon’s earlier years. Invisible to those he watches, Scrooge revisits his childhood school days, his apprenticeship with a jolly merchant named Fezziwig, and his engagement to Belle, a woman who leaves Scrooge because his lust for money eclipses his ability to love another. Scrooge, deeply moved, sheds tears of regret before the phantom returns him to his bed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, a majestic giant clad in a green fur robe, takes Scrooge through London to unveil Christmas as it will happen that year. Scrooge watches the large, bustling Cratchit family prepare a miniature feast in its meager home. He discovers Bob Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, a courageous boy whose kindness and humility warms Scrooge’s heart. The specter then zips Scrooge to his nephew’s to witness the Christmas party. Scrooge finds the jovial gathering delightful and pleads with the spirit to stay until the very end of the festivities. As the day passes, the spirit ages, becoming noticeably older. Toward the end of the day, he shows Scrooge two starved children, Ignorance and Want, living under his coat. He vanishes instantly as Scrooge notices a dark, hooded figure coming toward him.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leads Scrooge through a sequence of mysterious scenes relating to an unnamed man’s recent death. Scrooge sees businessmen discussing the dead man’s riches, some vagabonds trading his personal effects for cash, and a poor couple expressing relief at the death of their unforgiving creditor. Scrooge, anxious to learn the lesson of his latest visitor, begs to know the name of the dead man. After pleading with the ghost, Scrooge finds himself in a churchyard, the spirit pointing to a grave. Scrooge looks at the headstone and is shocked to read his own name. He desperately implores the spirit to alter his fate, promising to renounce his insensitive, avaricious ways and to honor Christmas with all his heart. Whoosh! He suddenly finds himself safely tucked in his bed.

Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his newfound Christmas spirit. He sends a giant Christmas turkey to the Cratchit house and attends Fred’s party, to the stifled surprise of the other guests. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise and honors Christmas with all his heart: he treats Tiny Tim as if he were his own child, provides lavish gifts for the poor, and treats his fellow human beings with kindness, generosity, and warmth. (Quote source and more details of Scrooge’s experience with each of these three ghosts are available at this link.)

In an article published on December 11, 2017, titled Did a Biblical parable inspire Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?” (subtitled: “Though he disliked organized religion, the creator of Scrooge knew his Scripture”) by Matthew Robert Anderson, Affiliate Professor, Theological Studies, Loyola College for Diversity & Sustainability, Concordia University, he writes:

Everyone knows the story of Scrooge, a man so miserly his name has become synonymous with penny-pinching meanness. Scrooge’s conversion from miser to benefactor has been told and retold since Charles Dickens first wrote A Christmas Carol in the fall and winter of 1843. Ebenezer is a wonderful character, so richly portrayed and fascinating he’s echoed in stories from “The Grinch” to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Pop culture has embraced both Dickens and his tale. With this season’s The Man Who Invented ChristmasHollywood has done it again.

But who was Scrooge before he was, well, Christopher Plummer? The inspiration for the crotchety Christmas-hater may have been those who put Dickens’ own father into debtor’s prison and were responsible for young Charles working in a shoe-blacking factory.

Some Dickens scholars believe the author’s 1843 visit to sooty Manchester, or to “the black streets of London,” (as he described them in a letter to a friend) influenced him. It may be that the fable was a moral reminder from Dickens to himself, as he teetered on financial ruin. This is the theory proposed in the book by Les Standiford on which this year’s movie is based.

Did Dickens in fact invent Christmas, as we know it? Hollywood may think so, but others, like David Parker in his Christmas and Charles Dickens vehemently disagree.

Whatever your opinion, the prevailing wisdom is that “A Christmas Carol” isn’t particularly religious. As a professor of biblical studies at Concordia University and also a Lutheran minister, I have a different reading.

It’s true that the celebration of the season which Scrooge discovers has much more to do with generosity, family gatherings and large cooked birds, than the Nativity. But maybe those seeking explicit scriptural references in Dickens’ story are underestimating the Victorian novelist’s skill—and his audacity. Perhaps “A  Christmas Carol” contains an alternative to the Bible rather than a simple borrowing from it. And perhaps that’s the point.

Jesus was a master story-teller

Jesus, by all accounts another master story-teller, told a parable that, stripped of Dickens’ English waistcoats, ledgers, fog and shutters, could almost be a mirror to “A Christmas Carol”:

“There once was a rich man. A poor man named Lazarus lived at his gate, with nothing to eat. Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died.” [Read Luke 16:19-31 for full parable.]

There follows, in Jesus’ tale, an exchange between the rich man, who is in torment, and Abraham, who acts as the guardian of paradise. It’s hard not to think of the innocent Lazarus as a precursor to Tiny Tim.

First the rich man asks for his own relief from hell. When that’s denied, he pleads: “I beg you, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. Let him warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.” Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets. They must listen to them.”

“No, Father Abraham!” cries the rich man, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change” (Luke 16:19-31).

One can almost hear the chains of Morley’s ghost rattling. What would have happened if Father Abraham had said yes? Something very like a first-century version of “A Christmas Carol.”

Let’s not forget that the people of our western English-speaking past, especially artists and writers, were imbued with Biblical references and ideas. As Northrop Frye, among others, has argued, they lived and created in a world shaped by the rhythms, narratives, images and conceptions (or misconceptions) of the King James Bible.

Was Dickens familiar with Christian scriptures? All evidence points to the fact that he was more acquainted than most. Despite an antipathy to organized religion, from 1846 to 1849 Dickens wrote a short biography of Jesus for his children, titledThe Life of our Lord.”

He forbade that his small retelling of Jesus’ life should be published, until not only he, but also his children, had died. The “Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man” was one of eight stories of Jesus that Dickens chose to include in that volume. But in his story of Scrooge, Dickens was too much of a writer to leave Jesus’ parable as is, and his age too suspicious of scripture to leave itunbroken.”

“A Christmas Carol” unites the deliciously horrific sensibility of the Gothic movement with the powerfully simple narrative style, joined to moral concern, typical of parables.

Was Dickens perhaps dozing off some Sunday while the rector droned on about Lazarus, until he wakened with a start dreaming of Scrooge? We will never know. But it’s an intriguing possibility.

Happy endings for the rich

Surprisingly, the Sunday after Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, preaching on exactly this text, spoke of Dickens as the “parabler” of his age. Stanley said that “By [Dickens] that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society. Through his genius the rich man…was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

I would go further: Dickens took the parable, and then retold and changed it, so that the rich man gets a second chance. As a privileged societal figure who had gone through financial difficulties and who cared about the poor himself, Dickens freely adapted Jesus to come up with a story that’s ultimately more about love than judgement.

When confronted with Marley’s spectre, Scrooge, unnerved but unrepentant, addresses the apparition: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

The perceptive reader (or viewer) of “A Christmas Carol” can point a finger at Marley’s ghost and add: “Or maybe you’re an ironic but hope-filled riff on Jesus, by a famous nineteenth-century author who wanted to write his own story of redemption.”

The ConversationDickens not only invented this Christmas genre, but imagined a happy ending for himself in it. He penned an enduring story about the second chance even a rich person can receive, if haunted by persistent-enough ghosts. (Quote source here.)

In searching online for articles for this blog post, this is the first time I discovered articles that mentioned the comparison between Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 with Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Of course, reimaging a parable told by Jesus as Dickens did (as stated in the article above) in his story, “A Christmas Carol,” does not change the original parable and its meaning as told by Jesus. However, salvation is available to all who believe, rich or poor (see John 3:16-18), and that is the gift Jesus gave to all who believe in him.

I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…

Mighty God . . .

Everlasting Father . . .

Prince of Peace . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

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Image Bearers

Imago Dei is the Latin translation of “Image of God” as found in the Biblical creation story in Genesis 1 (source here). A brief description from Christianity.com states:

Imago Dei, or Image of God, means in likeness, or similarity, to God. Humans are created with unique abilities, absent in all other creatures of the earth, that mirror the divine nature of God.

The significance of humans being created “in the image of God” is our responsibility to recognize and understand rationality and ability to create abstract conceptions from the natural world. This gives us the capacity to create a glorious peaceful world or a fallen chaotic environment, depending upon our motives and understanding. Just as Satan fell from God, we are capable of falling from God and suffering the consequences. We must realize our dual potential (good vs evil) and act in accordance with God’s will and law to create prosperous and benevolent communities and nations. (Quote source here.)

So, what exactly does it mean that humanity is made in the image of God (imago dei)?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

On the last day of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Thus, He finished His work with a “personal touch.” God formed Adam from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Accordingly, humanity is unique among all God’s creations, having both a material body and an immaterial soul/spirit.

Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However, Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death.

The image of God (Latin: imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.

Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Morally, humanity was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (humanity included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behavior, or feels guilty, he or she is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.

Socially, humanity was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature and His love. In Eden, humanity’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Every time someone marries, makes a friend, hugs a child, or attends church, he or she is demonstrating the fact that we are made in the likeness of God.

Part of being made in God’s image is that Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Although they were given a righteous nature, Adam and Eve made an evil choice to rebel against their Creator. In so doing, they marred the image of God within themselves, and passed that damaged likeness on to all of their descendants (Romans 5:12). Today, we still bear the image of God (James 3:9), but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we show the effects of sin.

The good news is that when God redeems an individual, He begins to restore the original image of God, creating a “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). That redemption is only available by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from the sin that separates us from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Through Christ, we are made new creations in the likeness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17). (Quote source here.)

So how does this play out in our daily lives on a moment-by-moment basis? In an article published in 2014 titled, Life as an Image Bearer,” by Nancy Janisch, Ministry Coordinator of True North Campus Ministry, blogger, and a veterinarian for over 20 years,  she writes:

Christians claim that all people bear God’s image. In the ancient world, images of gods were not an attempt to depict the god so much as a way to show particular qualities. Maybe bearing God’s image means embodying particular attributes of God. What might that mean? How should we act in the world?

Historically, humans have tended to think that bearing God’s image allows us to use the natural world any way we want. We have thought that bearing God’s image separates us, places us above the rest of creation. But this is inconsistent with the God revealed in scripture. The biblical God is intimately and actively involved in the world.

We Christians believe that when we look at Jesus we see God. If we take both Jesus and the Genesis creation account seriously, we see that bearing God’s image requires a particular and peculiar sort of life: a life poured out for others. It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine living my life intentionally as an image bearer of God. I can do it for ten minutes or so; then I’m back in my self-centered existence.

But the older I get, the less my life is about doing and the more it is about being. As a newly graduated veterinarian, I had to work to look the part. Later, I didn’t need to worry so much about looking like a veterinarian—because I became a veterinarian. I developed confidence in my knowledge and abilities. I accepted and internalized the identity my degree conferred. With time and experience, being the doctor became less awkward.

I didn’t have to earn my status as an image bearer of God; it’s how I was created. But to live this way, I have to accept it. It’s about being, not doing—yet living into this is the work of a lifetime. Who am I to think of myself as one who bears the image of God? According to Genesis, I don’t have a choice. It’s who I am. 

Some days my life as an image bearer seems like a bad idea on God’s part. I am preoccupied, self-centered, oblivious to whatever doesn’t directly affect my little world. But every once in a while, for a little bit, I get it. And I live it. (Quote source here.)

“It’s about being, not doing—yet living into this is the work of a lifetime.” Too often we tend to view the Christian life as a list of things we need to do or rules we need to follow instead of an attitude of the heart that permeates everything that we are and that we do at the core of our being. We often get too wrapped up in the external things we do or the rules that we follow or a certain way we are supposed to look or act at the expense of the internal attitudes of the heart. To be an image bearer is truly a way of “being” and not just “doing.” I Samuel 16:7 states, The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

That verse brings me to an article published in 2013 titled, Why God is Looking at Your Heart,” by Dan Delzell, pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church and a regular contributor to The Christian Post. He writes:

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

God can see things about you that no one else can see. Deep things. Hidden things. You know, those inner thoughts and desires that your family and friends have no idea are even floating around in your heart and mind.

We have a tendency to assume that a person’s actions tell the whole story. But that is simply not the case. Just look at the apostle Peter for example. He had some serious lapses in judgment, and yet, his heart was right before God. He truly wanted to do the honorable thing in every situation. But his follow-through was not always as reliable as his intentions.

God is looking at that place inside you where your mind is constantly weighing various options. This means He is looking at more than just your behavior. He is looking at why you do what you do. That goes to the level of the heart.

After his sins of murder and adultery, King David needed a new heart. But he knew that he was not capable of providing it for himself. So he asked God to do it as he prayed these words, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10) The word “create” is hugely significant. It reveals the fact that David knew he was powerless to fix his heart. It was too messed up.

But King David did by that time have one good thing in place. His motives were once again pure, even though his recent actions had been anything but pure. If your motives are pure, you will be moving in a good direction. It will be in the direction of godliness and righteousness, as compared to a continual chasing after things which are outside of God’s will for your life.

Notice the distinction between our “intentions” and our “desires.” Intentions, or motives, are what we “want to do” and what we “don’t want to do.” Desires on the other hand are what we are feeling “drawn to do.” Do you see the difference?

Christians want to live for Christ because of what He has done for us. He gave us everything. His life. His love. His blood. And His free gift of salvation. Why wouldn’t we want to give Him our entire heart, soul and mind? Why wouldn’t we want to do the right thing in every situation?

The element of course which throws a monkey wrench into the mix is sin. And sin is more than just “what we do.” It is also part of our being. The Bible calls that part of us our “sinful nature.”

It is helpful to understand that your sinful nature is not the same thing as your heart. Your sinful nature is capable of producing an unlimited amount of evil desires, but with your free will as a believer in Jesus, you get to decide which desires to dwell on and which ones to resist. The more we embrace good desires and righteous choices with our heart and mind, the more those bad desires decrease in frequency and intensity.

One of the many problems with sin is that it has the power to corrupt our motives. When that happens, we as Christians can actually start to become “double-minded.” This occurs when some of our intentions remain pure, while other motives within us have become impure. Talk about conflicted!

Bad desires lead to bad motives when the will acts on an evil desire rather than resisting it by God’s grace. And bad motives will always increase bad desires. Only God can decrease them. Only God can replace them. Only God can forgive them. And He does that through the blood of His Son as we trust in Christ alone to forgive us.

Given the mess we are in if left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it is amazing that God would love us enough to reach down and offer us a new heart, and a new mind, and new motives. But that is exactly what He does. He not only washes away the sins of those who come to the Father through the Son, but He also begins to fill our soul with His living water. That refreshing experience leads to a new life. But only as the bad motives get replaced with good motives.

As D.L. Moody used to say, “We have to be emptied before we can be filled.” As we admit our bad motives and sinful decisions to the Lord, we then ask Him to remove them and their chilling effects from our heart and soul. That emptying is crucial in order to make room for God’s living water to fill us. Christians still have a sinful nature, but we are no longer chained to those desires. We are now free to pursue things which please God. (See Romans 6-8.)

In the midst of our Christian freedom, we must be on guard daily against indulging the desires of the sinful nature. The moment we begin to do so with our words, or actions, or even persistent unholy thoughts, we begin to notice a subtle shift in some of our motives. That is what sin does to us. It corrupts our motives. It damages our heart. And it makes it next to impossible for us to please God until we set it right.

By talking to God about our issues and our sins, we are confessing to Him that we have gone astray. When we repent of our sin, we turn from it and seek to go in the other direction. And through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we are liberated to live for God with a joyful heart. Now can you honestly tell me any better way to live than that?

As forgiven children of God, we are free to set our heart and mind on things that are pure and pleasing to God. We seek to fill our minds with God’s Word and God’s will so that there is no room in our heart for sinful thoughts and desires to take over and set up shop. When a sinful thought pattern becomes fortified in our mind, the Bible calls that a “stronghold.”

In order to avoid strongholds, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (see 2 Cor. 10:4, 5) We have learned how critical our thought life is to our overall life of discipleship. This is why God’s Word instructs us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

A follower of Jesus Christ is first and foremost one who seeks to control his or her thinking. This discipline is far easier said than done, as each one of us knows from personal experience. But by God’s grace, it can be put into practice. Here is the daily drill: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) If you do that, everything else will pretty well fall into place in your life of discipleship.

It’s no wonder that people who only dabble with Christianity give up so soon. The mental discipline can be rigorous at times. It is an hour-by-hour challenge, especially in our society today. But just because you have some setbacks doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. The narrow road you are on as a believer in Jesus is the only road that ends well. That is because after the brutal crucifixion of our Lord, His resurrection ended well. And when the last second on the clock of time ticks down to zero, the Messiah and His people will begin a celebration that will have no end, literally.

So if you run out of good things to think about, try focusing on the eternal reality of paradise with the Lord. In that land, the hearts of God’s people will never experience even a hint of sinful desire or the restlessness which those desires produce in us here on earth. Everything will be on the up and up in heaven, and our senses will be in rapturous overdrive with a constant overflow of joy, peace and power. The Bible highlights the reality of “eternal pleasures.” (Psalm 16:11) Let’s just say that no one who goes to that place will ever be bored for even a microsecond.

As the Lord examines your heart and my heart today, He will be pleased if He sees faith in Christ and motives that want to do His will. If there is an area of our heart where that holy reality is not freely flowing, God can fix it. He can heal it. He can overwhelm our sin and our issues. But we must come to Him in repentance and humility just like King David eventually did.

Without the sincere motive to be walking on the Lord’s straight path, we will experience much unrest and a continual longing for things which are outside of God’s will. It’s the same for all of us. We all have a sinful nature. We all get to choose our motives. And we all experience the fruit of our motives.

This is why all God has to do to see what someone is really about is to look at the heart. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Proverbs 27:19) Actions reveal a believer’s spiritual maturity, or lack of it, but the heart reveals our deepest intentions. And the strength of those holy desires and the depth of our love for the Lord tells God a whole lot about us.

So if you find your heart today filled with unholy desires rather than righteous ones, you can ask God to do something about it. Who else is capable of performing surgery on the soul? Who but the Holy Spirit can give us a genuine love for Christ and an ongoing desire to do His will in all things?

Bottom line: our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves. And He sees those issues within us that no one else comes close to seeing. Yet He still loves us even with all of our conflicted desires and imperfect follow-through.

Now that’s impressive, because that is true love straight from the heart of God! (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from King David found in Psalm 51:10Create in me a pure heart, O God…

And renew . . .

A steadfast spirit  . . .

Within me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Keep Me in the Moment” by Jeremy Camp:

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