Friday, August 24, 2007

made in God’s image? guest post by Mark Stevens

A post of mine, large people and airplane seats, has set off a hailstorm of comments, and left me reflecting on how our Christian faith does, or does not, shape our perceptions of body image. How to talk about body size? Am I (Steve Taylor) personally hateful of fat people, as I have been accused of being? Why are we so sensitive, when our churches blithely proclaim we are “made in God’s image”? What on earth can “made in God’s image” mean in our world today?

So I have invited a number of people to guest blog around the theme of “made in God’s image.” Here is the first guest blog, by Mark Stevens. I welcome any other guest contributions, as we keep trying to talk (in contrast to shout) with each other about an issue that is deeply personal.

“Why, if Christians are made in the image of God, is it so hard to look at ourselves n*ked in the mirror?”

My first response to the question was a cheeky “speak for yourself”, however, the truth is, like most people, I find it hard to accept who I am in the flesh. I wonder why this is the case? It’s like the dream where we are n*ked and walk into a room, so we go out of the room and put clothes on and then re-enter the room only to find that we are n*ked again. Why don’t we just say “stuff it I’ll just hang around here in my birthday suit”?

I was recently reading an article about Angelina Jolie in which the journalist remarked, that in person her “features are disproportionate, almost cartoonish. What looks beautiful on film is actually outsized in person”. The same brave journo further remarked, “she is just a freakishly fortunate fraction of a millimeter off not being beautiful at all”[1]. Who decides the parameters of beauty in our culture? Obviously someone has set a benchmark against which this journalist can judge Angelina and by which we often judge ourselves. When it comes to body image it’s as if society is trying to build its own Babel of beauty; trying to create humanity in their image. When we look at ourselves naked in the mirror I don’t think we see ourselves, so we want to leave the room and get dressed and then re-enter. Often, unless we are very disciplined mentally, we see what society tells us we are not! The benchmark has been set, not by imago Dei but rather by imago humanas!

We are surrounded by images and messages telling us what our bodies are not. Unlike the journalist’s judgment that Angelina is a millimeter away from not being beautiful, we are told that our bodies are a mile away from being acceptable! The challenge is for us is to live in hope of God’s image for us. The gospel affirms who we are holistically, not just spiritually. When we look in the mirror we are often looking at the effects of sin slowly creeping across our ageing flesh, and, we are unhappy with this reality. In the immediate, there is nothing many of us can do (excluding exercise and healthy living, which I believe all of us can & should do) to stop this process. Nevertheless, God is redeeming us slowly. Like the Israelites longed for a land, we long for our new creation body so that one day we can hang around in our birthday suit without having to leave the room!

[1] The Australian Magazine, Being Angelina, p18, August 18-19 2007

Posted by steve at 12:39 PM


  1. Nice post. Very thought-provoking. Personally I don’t like to look in the mirror as I am reminded of 2 things simultaneously. 1, that the shape my body is in is a result of bad eating habits in my twenties (although with exercise that is slowly changing), and 2. I don’t measure up to what society thinks as attractive. So, I desperately try to change. I go to the gym to try and “get fit” and “get into shape”. But what does that mean? Am I trying to “fit” into the “shape” that society says is accpetable? I look in the mirror after regular trips to the gym and I see a different body – less flab, more muscles. Dare I flex a muscle or two to show myself that I am becoming more of a man, or do I ignore the desire to do so, dismissing it as sinful boasting of what I have done to lose weight and be more healthy? And at the same time, am I exercising my brain, and then also exercising my spirit? Why the emphasis on my body?

    Comment by wokboy — August 25, 2007 @ 4:10 am

  2. Hmmmmmm,…. It’s quiet around here, once again the silence is deafening…. Is this the calm after the storm or is this the eye of the storm ?

    “Why, if Christians are made in the image of God, is it so hard to look at ourselves n*ked in the mirror?” …. Partly, because we are an overtly ‘compartmentalized’ people.

    Well, first of all, Christians aren’t the only ones made in the image of God – apparently all of Humanity is too. According to the story in Genesis humanity with all its diversity of colour, shape, size, psychology, personality, emotions, culture, and it’s need for spirituality can all find its source from this statement, ” made in the image of God “…It’s a mysterious statement but it’s ambiguity can also be explored… One of things it does do is affirm our physicality.

    We are holistic beings that are are made up of many distinctive’s described above. I think it’s deficient to focus on the physical alone and ask the question, ‘ what does made in the image of God mean today ‘ ? This idea of compartmentalizing our beings, for the church, goes way back to St Augustine who was a huge fan of the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato promoted the idea of ‘Dualism’ which Augustine picked up on and masterfully applied it to the Christian life and world view of his day which still reaches down to ours. Basically, Augustine said that the Spiritual life was most important and should be the focus of our Christian growth. Our physical nature, over all, was something that was akin to carnality, the flesh, the inherently sinful part of ourselves. Some of the results of this philosophy in the church have been : The perception that s*x is evil, the female body inspires lust, emotions and intuition can’t be trusted, the physical body isn’t that important, the environment can be exploited , even being ‘educated’ has taken a toll under this philosophy…. We often say to each other, ‘ how’s your Spiritual life ‘ ? as though that’s what’s most important, as though it’s separate from every other part of our beings.

    I’m doing away with this kind of compartmentalization or separatism. I am one ‘being’ made up of many distintive’s that are all important to God and should be looked after in the pursuit of Godliness. I’m beginning to understand that I can’t do anything spiritually, physically, emotionally etc. that’s not going to effect every other distinctive of my being. We have a responsibility to look after our physical bodies, like we take care of our ‘ spiritual ‘ life. But not in the vanity and conformity of this world. We do it because in some measure it bears Gods image, which is a mystery, because we’re all so different. So bear his image and be who you are but don’t be conformed to the vain nature of this world.

    That’s my two bits…

    Comment by Tangira — August 28, 2007 @ 7:15 am

  3. Tangira,

    is it “deafening” cos it’s far more fun to beat up on steve :)?


    Comment by steve — August 28, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  4. Yeah, it must seem that way, eh….Some sure are taking the opportunity to do that. If they live in ChCh then I hope they be responsible enough to see you in person, if indeed they are offended, and not hide in cyber space content with their own virtual perceptions.

    Comment by Tangira — August 28, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  5. The only reason I can give for picking on Steve is becaise he says ‘Bone-O’ instead of ‘Bono’ 🙂 By the way Tangira I appreciated your thoughts on seeing all of our being as one instead of compartmentalising each bit.

    Comment by mark — August 29, 2007 @ 9:32 am

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