When I was growing up in the South, people often said to me, “You’re the spitting image of your dad.” I understood what they meant, but still, what’s a “spitting” image? Someone later explained that it’s slang for “spirit and image.” It refers to more than just appearance. If you’re someone’s spitting image, you have their charisma or mannerisms, the same walk or laugh or smile. That’s what people mean by spitting image — you remind them of someone.
Although I’m not 100 percent sure that’s the origin of this southern phrase, I am convinced it offers insight into what it means to be made in the image of God. We might say that human beings are the spitting image of God. We remind the world of God. We are able, at our best, to act like God, to love like God, to create like God, and even to smell like God. I once heard someone say that saints are simply those who leave the fragrance of Jesus in the world. Their lives remind others of Jesus.
God created human beings in God’s own image and then, over time, human beings decided they’d like to put their image on things too. Today, we call it branding. Think of millionaires or former presidents who build towers and plazas and casinos and put their names up in lights to spread their empires. Or think of Mount Rushmore or the faces of various presidents printed on our money. Every image is a reminder, an assertion of the image maker’s power, position, or authority.
The kings and emperors of the ancient world were no different. For example, in Jesus’ day, Caesar Augustus was obsessed with putting his image on everything. It was engraved on statues, on buildings, on war machines, on documents, and on coins. Augustus loved getting his name out there and branding everything he could with his imperial stamp.
But for Augustus and other caesars of old, stamping their image on things was more than just a narcissism complex. It was also about marking their turf and expanding their territory. Historians say that you can tell how far the power of a particular emperor reached by tracking the locations of the coins that had his image on it. As coins were used in commerce and war, they carried with them the influence of the person whose image they bore. Coins were a trail of crumbs that led back to those in power. They demonstrated how powerful the emperor was and how much territory his colonizing ambitions had amassed.
The Image of God on God’s Coins
Perhaps you can see where this is going. God’s image is too glorious to put on a coin or a statue, so God put the divine image on us.
- God chose to make us in God’s image. We are the living currency of God.
We are God’s coins, bearing God’s image, carrying God’s influence wherever we go. And we can see how far God’s kingdom extends — somebody say “amen” — wherever human beings find themselves. Where human beings are, God is. As the apostle John said,
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and [God’s] love is made complete in us. — 1 John 4:12
Wherever a human being is, God is; and whenever we crush a human being, we crush the image of God.
This is one of the big differences between Caesar and God. Caesar wanted to be seen but not known. And God wants to be known but cannot be seen. The image of God is too profound to carve into a stone or stamp onto a piece of metal.
When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God said,
You cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live. — Exodus 33:20
Instead, God said He would shield Moses in the cleft of a rock and then pass by so Moses could see God’s back. Maybe it was like wearing those special glasses that allow you to look at a solar eclipse without going blind. God wants to be known, so God appears in ways that are both mysterious and miraculous — to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:1–5), to Elijah in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–13), to Abraham in the guise of three strangers (Genesis 18:1–2). In one encounter, God sends an angel to a woman named Hagar, Abraham’s mistress, whom Abraham had banished into the desert with her son, Ishmael. Hagar names God as, get ready for this, “the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). That’s what she names God: “You-Are-the-One-Who-Sees-Me.” It’s a stunning reflection of God’s desire to know and be known.
- The God who saw Hagar and Ishmael is the God who sees us and longs to be known by us.
Finally, God puts on skin and comes to us with a name and a face in Jesus. But here’s the part we sometimes forget. Just as we see God in Jesus, Jesus tells us that God lives in us (John 14:17). We are God’s sanctuary. God does not dwell in temples made by human hands (Acts 17:24), but God lives in you and me (1 Corinthians 3:16). Every person on the planet is the holy of holies. That should cause us to treat other people, every person, as if they are God’s temple — because they are.
Caesar could reproduce his image in bronze or marble and mass produce his image on coins, but it was all lifeless. God chose to reproduce God’s own image in us, in living human beings. Perhaps that is why we have the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV). God is inviting us to broaden God’s Kingdom by filling the world with the currency of love. Wherever there are people loving one another, God is visible in the world.
Excerpted with permission from Rethinking Life by Shane Claiborne, copyright Shane Claiborne.
* * *
Every human being is sacred because we are all created in the very likeness of God. We’re meant to look like Him, be like Him, and display His glory here on earth! Isn’t that astonishing? Come share your thoughts with us on the God who sees us! We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily