His birth and life are just prologue.
Only Jesus’ death matters for salvation.
As NT Wright likes to quip, ‘What about all those bits in the middle?’
It comes as no surprise then that for many Christians our lives are only prologue as well, possibly interesting but not essential.
As Brian Zahnd likes to point out, when we deemphasize the life of Jesus we, in effect, demote the Ascended King who’s been given dominion of the nations to ‘Secretary of After Life Affairs.’
In §10-12 of On the Incarnation, Athanasius begins to take up a theme held by his fellow Church Fathers; namely, that salvation begins not on Good Friday but on Christmas Eve, for the eternal, macro goal of creation is theosis, the joining together of the infinite and the finite, of humanity with divinity. But therein lies the problem for Athanasius- not our guilt but our inhumanity.
Because of sin, we’re not sufficiently human to be joined together with life of the Trinity.
We no longer resembles the image of God so joining with God is an impossibility. Our image needs to be repaired.
And this is where Athanasius finds a redemptive purpose for the teaching of Christ that many common takes on the cross neglect- and not just the teaching of Christ; this is how Athanasius views the purpose of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible too.
A lot of times we throw around the phrase “made in the image of God,” as a way to dismiss others without sounding bigoted.
It’s often “we’re all made in the image of God, but…” It’s become the theological equivalent of “I’m not racist, but…”
But…what if we took it seriously?
What if in every human being, in every person we met, we truly believed we saw the ‘image of the Living God?’
It’s easy to saw when looking at children, or Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela. But what about Stalin? Or Attila the Hun? Or Sarah Palin?
There are people we see everyday and when we look at them the image that stares back at us could not look anything less like God. Or perhaps its not even the face of someone else – maybe its the face that gazes back from the mirror that shows no sign of God’s likeness.
Athanasius took the phrase “made in the image of God” seriously.
An Egyptian bishop living 300 years after Jesus, Athanasius took seriously the claim – the promise – the declaration that God made humanity in God’s image. Imprinted on each of us is a portrait of the God who declared “Let us make Humanity in our image.”
“Let us make them in the likeness of God.”
And Athanasius knew something about images.
Once when he had run afoul of the emperor he had to flee Alexandria and hide in the tomb of an Egyptian mummy. He would have been surrounded by once beautiful painting – paintings that had faded. Painting that had flaked and cracked. Paintings that were worn away by the elements.
Athanasius imagined that what we see in the prophets – what we see in the life of Israel – what hear from Scripture – was an attempt to repair, to repaint our portraits. Moses and Isaiah, Daniel and Miriam, Jacob and Ezekiel, they all briefly saw God.
They saw what the original subject of the portrait looked like. They caught a glimpse of God’s likeness and returned to their people.
Whatever restoration they attempted was second hand at best.
A vague reflection, a vague memory of the original.
In Jesus – in God made flesh, “God with Us,” the original subject – the likeness of God is made flesh.
In Jesus we can look upon God and can, through him, restore our image.
In the life of Jesus the perfect image of God is manifest – made available to all of us.
When Mary looked at the baby she had carried for 9 months, when Joseph looked at the son he would raise, that he would love and take care of – when they looked at Jesus they saw God’s image for the first time.
In Jesus’ life and faithfulness, in his words and deeds, we discover not only the image of God in which we were created but also the possibility of our own image.
– Thanks to Andrew DiAntonio who contributed to this post