EVERY HUMAN BEING—MALE and female—is created in the image and likeness of God.  That is what we learn from the story of creation narrated in the first chapter of the book of Genesis.  The statement is, at the same time, simple and profound.  It is pregnant with meaning.  It tells us that we human beings are beautifully made.  Yet, the statement can be easily misunderstood.

It is not a statement of biological resemblance.  For there cannot be a biological resemblance between a human being and God.  Since God is incorporeal, he has no bodily features.  Therefore, the statement does not mean we have the same physical traits as God, the way we bear physical traits of our biological parents.  Even though we often come across the expression, “face of God”, we must constantly bear in mind that this is an anthropomorphic expression, a way of speaking about God the way we speak about human beings.  While it is legitimate to speak of God in this way, it is important that we bear in mind that his “face” is not like ours.  Ours should be like his.  But we must go beyond explaining what the face of God is not.  We must still figure out what it means to speak of the face of God.  We may find a clue from what the word “face” means.

In the First Reading at Mass on the First Sunday of Advent in Cycle C, God is addressed in the book of the prophet Isaiah in these words: “you have hidden your face from us” (Is 64:7).  And the writer of the Responsorial Psalm of the same Mass would seem to have added his voice to the prophet’s when he pleaded with God in these words: “God, bring us back, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved” (Ps 80: 3). 

English translators of the Bible use the word, “face” to translate the Hebrew word “paneka”.  The English word “face” translates the Latin “facies”.  The face of a person is the front of his or her head, the way the person appears.  The face facilitates identification.  It assists us to know the person.  But, as the Prologue of the Gospel according to John teaches, no one has seen the face of God.   “No one has ever seen God; it is only the Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known” (Jn 1:18).In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is reported to have said: ”No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to who the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27).

Jesus has revealed the Father to us as love.  In that respect, to speak of the face of God is to speak of the love of God.  When the prophet and the psalmist pleaded with God to show his face, they were pleading that he reveal his love.  They both spoke on behalf of a nation undergoing trial.  God had hidden his face, that is, his love.  Or rather, by straying from the path of justice, the path of fidelity to God, the Israelite nation found itself in a situation where it could no longer see the face of God.

The face of God is not a physical feature.  The face of God is the love of God.  The face of God is love.  God does not hide his face because he does not hide his love.  But human beings turn their gaze from God.  They fix their gaze on creatures instead of God.  And that provides the meaning of what is said about God and about us in the creation narrative in the book of Genesis. 

If the face of God is love, then human beings, created in his image and likeness, have been created to resemble love. The love of God is the goodness that God is.  At creation, God communicated and imprinted his goodness on his creatures.  The image of God in us is the imprint of divine love, of divine goodness, that we all bear in us.  It is the life of God in us.  Thanks to the life of God that is in us, we have intellective and affective powers.  We are able to know the good, and we are able to choose the good.  We are able to live in goodness and for goodness.  In a nutshell, our creation in the image and likeness of God is not a matter of physical resemblance but of intellective and affective resemblance.  It is intellective becausewe participate in the divine intellect in our capacity to know the truth.  It is affective because we have the capacity to do good.  Our resemblance is in our participation in the truth and love that divine essence is.

But sin has affected the image of God in us, not to the point of destroying it, but to the point of diminishing our intellective and affective capacities.  Sin darkened the human intellect and weakened the human will.  Darkened by sin, the intellect is affected by ignorance.  Mere opinion is elevated to the rung of truth.  What appears to be truth is mistaken for the real thing.  Appearance is mistaken for reality.  Weakened by sin, the will is affected by malice. What appears to be good is mistaken for what is truly good.  Even when we love we tend to be selective, restricting our love to those of our race or ethnic or religious affiliation.   If we were to be true to the image of God in us, we would love like God whose love knows no boundary.  We would move away from self-centred love, the type of love that makes us want to treat God and our neighbour with contempt.  We would avoid a self-centred love that works to implement a selfish agenda.  Implementation of such selfish agenda is at the root of all injustice in our world, and injustice is at the root of all wars.

Christ came to redeem the image of God in us.  We are already redeemed by his first coming.  But the perfect manifestation of the image of God in us is in his second coming.  The work of redemption has been accomplished in his first coming.  What has been perfectly accomplished in his first coming will be fully revealed in his second coming.  It will be the full revelation of our redemption, the perfect reconfiguration of the image of God in a redeemed humanity. 

During the liturgical season of Advent, our hope in this final restoration is enkindled by the scripture readings and prayers in the liturgy.  When we are prayerfully attentive to the word of God, we are inspired to live in the present world as people who await the final restoration of the image of God in us.  We await this final revelation of the children that we are through the good will we harbour towards everyone.  And even when some do not see that we harbour good will towards them, we must not relent.  For God who sees all things sees what others are unable or unwilling to see


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