Posted on April 8, 2009
[Moderator\'s note: This is the second post by Kathrin Halder in a series. She continues exploring her thinking regarding the imago dei and its relationship to counseling matters. Ms. Halder is part of the Christian psychology movement in Germany and works for IGNIS, a training center. *We apologize for the lenthy delay between Kathrin\'s first post and this one. The delay was caused by a technical glitch that prevented new posts from being loaded to the blog.]
Some might read my last post and wonder, “That sounds nice. You must have had an experience that moved your thinking. But aren’t you overly stressing that we are wonderfully made and leaving out our sin, weakness, and dependency?”
Yes, I did stress the one side. But since many stress human sinfulness, it seemed to be worthwhile to focus on the other side for one post. But of course we need to try to bring it together.
I have noticed that many of those who stress the positive side of our being created in the image of God seem to suggest that the imago dei is (a) substantival, and (b) at least partially untouched by the fall.
There are others who speak of the imago dei in relational terms (rather than of substance). The image of God seen through a relational lens focuses on the relationship to God. As the fall destroys the relationship with God, the imago dei is also destroyed.
Surprisingly enough, in reflecting on these two ways to view the image of God, I felt that the Spirit of God was leading me in a similarly deep process towards the relational interpretation. Let me explain why. First, we are totally dependent on God. Without him, we are nothing. Second, the substance interpretation of the imago dei may lead us to believe that we function independently from God. Consider instead the teaching of a “Creatio Continua”–an ongoing creation relationship between God and humanity. God remains in an ongoing relationship to this world, speaks into this world continuously, and sustains humanity who would otherwise fall to pieces and return to dust.
In these last days [God]has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebr. 1, 2-3a)
“If He should determine to do so, if He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34, 14-15)
I will never forget a specific day where I thought about that while going for a walk. Suddenly God spoke to me in a clear way, making known that I could only take the next step due to His sustaining power. I felt so close to God as we did one step after the other together, feeling His speaking strength and power into my bones very strongly.
And then the metaphor of a wellspring and river came to my mind. God is the wellspring. He is the only source of water (i.e., life, strength, love, well-being etc). We are the river. We receive and need to continuously receive water of the wellspring to be able to live, love and be of good health. Without the relation to God, we can’t live or love.
\”The basic attitude of humility recognizes that no person loves or does any good without the help of God, so that whatever acts of kindness or virtue a person performs, whatever strength or happiness one has, one\’s ability to work well and to love well – all these are possible because God gives them to the creatures as God\’s good gifts.”
But doesn’t that lead us back to a very pessimistic picture of man as a sinful fallen creature, that doesn’t have any water due to his separation from God? Doesn’t that destroy everything we heard about man as the wonderful imago dei? Only if we misunderstand what happens in the fall. In my understanding we broke off with God, but God never broke off from us? If He had, we would have returned to dust. But as He allows His water to flow even to us weak and fallen creatures by speaking life and love into us, he himself sustains His wonderful creation (at least in part).
But let’s take a deeper look at the consequences for the wonderful creation next week …
Reference: Bondi, Roberta C. (1987): To love as God loves; Conversations with the early church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press
Posted on February 18, 2009
[Moderator\'s note. The next three blog entries comes from Kathrin Halder, fellow member of the Society. Kathrin lives in Germany and teaches at IGNIS (a Christian psychology educational center)]
In my Christian life I was raised in a Protestant surrounding. We were taught frequently about the sinful, weak, powerless, and dependent nature of humanity. We seemed to live by the core value of being small and humble. In contrast to this value, I was confronted with a Humanist approach in my psychological studies that conflicted with my Christian teaching. I felt that this teaching conflicted with a biblical view of human nature (and still agree with this assessment to a significant degree).
But as I have grown and counselled others, I began to see that always focusing on sin and inadequacy, always focusing on humility promoted depression instead of well-being in many.
With further study, I came to the surprising conclusion that there are also Christians that view human nature very differently. They view mankind as God’s good creation, fearfully and wonderfully made. I recognized the need to make adequate provision for the concepts of creation grace and the image of God in my understanding of human nature.
This struggle to balance the concepts of grace and human depravity continue to be an issue for many of us—even for those of us who teach these concepts. I admit that despite my own teaching about the need to balance these concepts, I didn’t understand what I was saying in my deep inner being. It took quite some while (and space doesn’t allow for going in detail on the how) for the Spirit of God to reach the deeper areas of my heart and to open my eyes to a core aspect of His view of me:
“Yet You have made him [man] a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8,5-5 out of New American Standard Bible 1995).
In ME, the little Kathrin, is something that is LIKE God. The very being of God is in ME. He has made ME wonderfully, there is glory and majesty in ME. His light is in ME so that I can radiate it. His love is in ME, so that I can really live my calling to pass it on to others. He has given everything under MY feet, He has given ME strength and wisdom to rule over creation and has given ME power to overcome the world.
It took a while for the spirit of God to soak me in this understanding. It took a while for my heart to grasp a little bit of that what my head had taught (at least in part). But as I grew in this knowledge, it lead to a deep rejoicing of what God had done in me, had given to me and a kind of thankfulness came out of me, I had never experienced. And I am still on the way …
It sounds strong (and there certainly is a need for some words to balance this in the next post), but truly it had a strong impact on me. Let me close with some words of Nelson Mandela, where I don’t know whether I agree on everything (e.g. that it’s our power and light we fear most), but that still touched me in the direction of this post:
but that we are powerful beyond measure.It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
You are a child of God.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won\’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others. (Nelson Mandela)
Posted on June 23, 2008
[moderator\'s note: this post is written by our director, Dr. Eric Johnson of Southern Seminary, and continues his theme of reviewing and reinterpreting key words in the field of psychology.]
Every well-developed psychology should have some model of human maturity, which should include some concept for the process of change and some idea of the goal towards which human maturation is heading. Maslow’s model of both has been widely adopted within modern psychology. It uses the term self-actualization for the maturation process and self-actualizing person as its goal. Should Christians adopt this terminology, or should we use some distinctively Christian terms to label the Christian process and goal?
From a Christian standpoint, there are a number of problems with Maslow’s humanistic notions on human maturation.
1. As understood by Maslow, self-actualization has to be interpreted literally. The self actualizes itself, exclusively. God is not intrinsic to the process Maslow is describing.
2. That is one reason why, according to Maslow (1954, pp. 7, 221), believers in dogmatic religions (like Judaism and Christianity) were unable to attain this level. Christians should assume Maslow understand his concept well and accept his interpretation of it.
3. In the Christianity scheme, the natural self is fallen, so Christian maturation requires the death of the self, in order to attain a new resurrected self (Ro 6:1-11). This is antithetical to Maslow’s model.
Sanctification is the term used in theology for Christian maturation. However, in every conceivable way, Jesus Christ is the real focal point for Christian maturation, so maybe there is a better term.
1. Christ is the image of God, the fulfillment of human nature, and therefore the exemplar of Christian maturity.
2. It is solely because of his life, death, and resurrection that Christians are able to mature Christianly.
3. He sent the Holy Spirit who alone gives us the capacity to mature Christianly and Christ now intercedes for us on the journey.
4. Therefore, the process of Christian maturation is sometimes called conformity to Christ (Php 3:10; Ro 8:29) or Christiformity, and the image of Christ is considered the goal of Christian maturation (Ro 8:29), which has been called Christlikeness.
5. The highest activity of the Christian is love. Christian maturation is intrinsically relational, and is not exclusively oriented around the individual self.
To be faithful to its distinctive orientation, Christian psychology needs terms that capture how central Christ is to the Christian maturational process and goal and how it is a fundamentally relational system, and not ultimately individualistic.
Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.