It is not too difficult to visualise holiness as an expression of love; but pursuit of truth and beauty do not quite appear to have anything much to do with love. Our failure to make the connection is unfortunate. When we speak of being made in the image of God, we think rightly of the spiritual, moral and volitional dimensions but we often miss out the creative, the aesthetic and the intellectual aspects. This paper is an attempt to bring out these three, somewhat overlapping aspects of the image of God in us and to show why they are required expressions of our love to Almighty God.
Love expressed as pursuit of Holiness
An intriguing question that thinking people do ask is: How can God be infinitely and eternally holy if sin and evil are finite and limited? If good is the opposite of evil, how can good be eternal when evil is not? This position is called dualism in philosophy and holds that good and evil are equal and opposite—thus God, if He exists, would be beyond good and evil and both should emanate from Him! The Bible, of course, says that God Himself is holy and cannot countenance evil. All ethical laws in the Old and New Testaments are expressions of His character which is morally perfect and not arbitrary. God’s character is not inscrutable as some religions would have us to believe; He is revealed in history and through His laws as thoroughly and uncompromisingly good. There are two questions:
How does good exist eternally without any reference to evil?
How can God be good if there is no one to be good to? How can God be love—the epitomé of all virtues—if there is no one to love?
These are not theoretical questions. The quality of God’s love cannot be a learned quality like parents learning to love their first baby! In that case, He would need someone outside of Himself to love in order to learn love! He cannot be infinite, in that case! The Bible reveals God to be relational and Trinitarian within His own Being (John 17:24). The Father loves the Son infinitely through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5). Thus God can be virtuous without reference to anything outside of Him.
The Bible commands us to be holy because God is holy (Lev.19:2; I Pet.1:16). He created us to reflect His image individually and corporately and He longs to see us conforming to the image of His Son (Gen.1:26,27; 2:24; Rom.8:28,29; John 17:20–22). The Hebrew word for oneness in Deut.6:4 (“The LORD our God is one LORD”) and Gen.2:24 (“…they shall be one flesh”) are one and the same. The oneness of God is not absolute monadic oneness but a composite oneness. The family and the Church are the best images of the Trinity. The husband–wife and parent–child relationships reflect a sacred aspect of the Being of God. In the same way, it is the unity within the body of Christ—the Church—that reflects the image of God (John 13:34,35; 17:20–23). Reflection of the moral image of God always involves relationships. Jesus makes it clear that the time that we spend alone with God in commitment to Him provides us with the potential for holiness that has to be actualised in God’s world of people and things (Luke 14:25–33). He also made it quite clear that to love Him is to obey His commandments (John 14:23).
So what is holiness for the Christian believer and the Church?
- Holiness is better understood in a relational way rather than in its personal aspect. During one’s time with God, one should learn relationship with oneself. You cannot relate rightly to others till you rightly relate yourself; and you cannot rightly relate to yourself, unless you are rightly related to God (Ps.8:3–5; Lev.19:18).
- Our motivation for holiness arises from God’s work in us so as to make sure that we are conformed to the image of His Son.
- It is only in relationship with other persons that that holiness is actualised. A Christian believer’s time with God has to be for unselfish reasons—not only that “my hands/conscience should be clean” but that others are blessed and built up in her/his character. Social justice is an important expression of Christian holiness, as Lev.19 clearly indicates.
- The criterion for the world recognising Christians to be disciples of Christ is not religious but relational (John 13:34,35). Jesus made it clear that His commandment was that we love one another (John 15:14–17).
- Even those sins that are considered as secret and personal have relational and social consequences.
- In Mark 12:28–31 and Matt.22:34–40, Jesus is queried by a lawyer as to which (of the ten) was the greatest commandment. Jesus stuns him by giving two commandments. Which of the two is the greater?! These two commandments are given the same status only because, (i) obedience to the first is fundamental to obeying the second. But, (ii) obedience to the second commandment is the evidence that we have obeyed the first (I John 4:20,21)!
- In the walk of holiness now, the Christian community must begin to show a restoration of relationship with nature as well.
- Only within this unique understanding of holiness can this quality be distinguished from mere asceticism that has been the mark of eastern religions and of the stoics in ancient Greece.
Love expressed as pursuit of Truth
In the Hebrew language, the words for truth and faithfulness are closely related. Emeth means truth and emunah is trust or faithfulness. Such a relationship cannot be made in the Greek language between faith/faithfulness (pistis) and truth (aletheia).
If I make the statement, “It is raining outside”, you will check out the truth of my statement by seeing whether it corresponds to the actual state of affairs—this is the correspondence definition of truth and is applicable to propositions. On the other hand, if I were to make the statement, “I am a true Indian”, how would you check out the truth of that statement? You can of course check whether I am an Indian citizen. But is that enough? How can you know the truth of the second statement unless we both sit down and have a chat? During that conversation, I should have the freedom to share with you the passions of my heart. I may not trust you with the secrets of heart if the environment is not conducive to that trust. What makes such trusting relationships possible? Real openness prompted by love. Where there is even the slightest trace of suspicion—let alone animosity or outright hatred—such trust is not possible. Referring back to my example of whether I am a true Indian, I will not trust you with my heart’s passion unless our relationship is based on mutual trust. I hope we are able to see the connection between truth and trust; God is trustworthy not only because He speaks the truth but He is truth.
One of the reasons for hypocrisy in the Christian Church is that there is little scope for openness and transparency because of a lack of trust. Wherever trust is present, there is a greater possibility for repentance, confession, cleansing and restoration. Here again, truth is an integral expression of love. A literal translation of Eph.4:15 will read, “…truthing in love…” and so the correct translation should be “being true in love” than “speaking the truth in love”.
In our quest for absolute objective truth in the philosophical sense,we tend to forget that knowledge is essentially a relationship between the knower and the known and therefore turns on an objective/subjective axis. In emphasising objective truth to the exclusion of the subjective, we are undermining the relational aspect of truth. In the Christian understanding of God as Trinity, love and knowledge are possible in the Godhead only because of this relationship (John 17:24; Matt.11:28). In John 7:17, Jesus says that we will know whether His teaching is from God (and therefore true), only by our commitment to Him to do His will. Our understanding of truth requires a relational commitment.
Proverbs 8:22–31 is a fascinating passage. Wisdom—a prophetic reference to the Messiah—along with the Lord is engaged in the creation of the cosmos. But that passage also goes on to talk about the delight of Wisdom in the Lord and in His creation. Apart from the implicit Trinitarian connotation, it also shows that God passionately enjoys His creation. As God’s image-bearers, we ought to exhibit the same passion in the pursuit of truth in learning, studying, teaching and exploring knowledge at all levels.
Let me summarise and apply what we have seen above:
- Trustworthiness and truth are intimately related.
- Trust is impossible in the absence of love.
- Openness in relationships in the Christian Church cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of suspicion. Mutual confession and repentance is possible when we decide to be true before one another.
- At the philosophical level, both truth and knowledge have objective and subjective dimensions; thus they are relational qualities. Even at the physical level, these two aspects appear be related.
- “All truth is God’s truth” said Francis A. Schaeffer. The passion for pursuit of truth and knowledge in all aspects of life should be the hallmark of the Christian.
Love expressed as pursuit of Beauty
- As stated earlier, the image of God in us includes the aesthetic—the capacity to create and appreciate beauty. If God is Creator with a capital C, we are creators with a small c!
We tend to localise the image of God in us to the volitional—human free-will—and the moral and forget other aspects. If the intellectual image of God in us impels us to pursue truth, His aesthetic image in us must motivate us to cultivate and express that image in us in an amazing array of ways. In Genesis 1, there are several references as to how God enjoyed the various elements of the cosmos as He created them. The Greek word cosmos is the root from which the English word cosmetic is derived!
- One of the more difficult questions to answer is, “Why did God create the cosmos at all?” We should be careful not to answer that question by saying, “Because He needed it!” God is entirely self-contained in His Triune Being and does not need anything/ anyone outside Himself. The best way to answer the question is, “Because love is creative!”
- Human creativity employs the various entities available in nature and results from its interplay with God’s creation. The plethora of human cultures has produced a whole range of expressions of creativity; the Christian should take time to appreciate these perceptively and acknowledge the image of God in all endeavours of human creativity.
- It is also significant that most expressions of creativity involve the interaction between unity and diversity: a painting has many colours but expresses one theme; a symphony employs many instruments but produces one melodious harmony; a good dish—particularly an Indian one—has many ingredients but is one delicious final product!
- Christian understanding of beauty lifts it to a transcendental level beyond the reach of the godless. We recognise that we are living in the present creation which is subject to decay; beauty at the external level deteriorates but an inner beauty can still be discerned through the saving work of God in Christ. But we also look forward to the new creation that God is working towards where redeemed cultures will be part of the New Jerusalem (Rev.21:24,26).
L.T. Jeyachandran (M.Tech., IIT Madras) worked for 28 years as a Senior Civil Engineer with the Government of India. A well-known Bible expositor, L.T. is also a keen student of theology and for a long time headed RZIM in India and Asia-Pacific.