Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”Gen 1:26
What does it mean that we are created in God’s image? Can we see something of God in ourselves? Augustine devotes the second half of his book ‘The Trinity’ to these questions, and explores the inner workings of our soul, to find out more about how it mirrors God.
The first half of ‘The Trinity’ dealt with all the questions we might have about the relations between Father, Son and Holy Ghost, based on Scripture, trying to understand what we say we believe. All quite complicated, and it may seem like building a castle in the air, speaking about such things as we can never verify. Nevertheless, somewhere near the end of that first half, I was captured by the beauty of the insights and wrote ‘Love loves love’. The rest of the book is related to our own experience of ourselves. Augustine describes our memory, our will, and thought processes, how we learn, and so on. It is funny and endearing to read how he observes things, and explores these observations to find something like God.
Exploring the inner workings of our soul, in order to find God. Is that possible? Is it a good idea? Freud said that our ideas of God are projections of our inner life1. What if we turn into ourselves, and contrive any wild idea about God, whatever we fancy? But for Augustine it’s the other way round. We are the image, God is the source. He uses the bible verse “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 2to explain that looking into our soul is like looking into this mirror. God’s image is seen in us, though dimly, because it is difficult for us to know ourselves.
“I am”. When I began mindfulness meditations, I had a flash of insight when the instructor told me to observe my own thoughts. It was as if I took a step back into myself, and suddenly realized that the one thing I was completely sure of, was: “I am”. Even now, I feel so much awe and amazement when I say this. I know perfectly well that “I am” is how God wanted to be known to his people.3 It almost feels as if I am blaspheming if I say this myself. But who can deny the truth of it?
“Everything with self is wrong, except for self-denial”. This sentence has nested itself in my brain, and pops up whenever I start feeling okay about myself. I don’t even remember exactly when I first heard it, I suppose it was in a sermon, or on a meeting for teenagers about the dangers of New Age, or the ‘spirit of the world’ or something like that. To be sure, I also followed a workshop on ‘loving our neighbors as ourselves’ in the same setting, but the words on loving yourself didn’t carry much conviction. I remember it very well, these words didn’t land in my heart, remained like a dream.
I need to deal with these conflicting thoughts when I try to turn inward and ‘know myself’ in the way Augustine suggests. For he says that God’s image can be found in the way we are paying attention to our consciousness. At least that’s what I think he says… I admit it’s quite complicated, but consciousness is surely miraculous4, I can imagine that it is God’s reflection. There is a similarity between the mind knowing itself, and the description of God: ‘love loves love’. Again we have three times the same thing in one sentence, as in: our mind is mindful of being a mind. Okay, perhaps it sounds silly. All the same, self-awareness is intriguing and moving. It dawns on me that this self awareness gives us a solid preparation for receiving God’s love.
Self-doubts and what about sins?
The downside of self-awareness is that it makes me worry: am I good or bad? Also the miserable word ‘sin’ wants to be mentioned. I suppose it has a place in the story, although I hate it and cringe at its sound. The word seems to deny my right to exist, accusing me like the devil. Especially the word ‘sinful’ suggests that everything in me is wrong, even this deepest core, which is God’s image. I wish we could find another word, something like sickness, or wounds, or stains. Something external, not touching me. But I’m not sure another word would help. Something in me accuses me. The root of the problem lies this deep, and it’s no help denying, for I want to be saved and healed equally deeply. But the word ‘sin’ needn’t sting so much. The thought that it denies my right to exist is a lie. It could be the devil, reminding me of his right to keep me captive. We both seem to have forgotten that he lost this right when he killed Jesus, which is another thing that I learned from ‘The Trinity’. In book XIII Augustine explains our redemption along these lines. I don’t quite understand, I need to ponder this some more, yet it made sense to me when I read it.
Oh, and that reminds me of one of the things I liked best about this book ‘The Trinity’. To notice how much Augustine is also struggling for words. Several times he tries to explain how to see the Holy Spirit, and in the end he admits that he didn’t succeed. But between the lines I got the impression that he did ‘see’ something. It’s just next to impossible to put such things into words. Perhaps a poem could work. Anyway, the way he writes and shares his thoughts, enables me to see some of the things he saw. A shared consciousness, isn’t that beautiful?
- 1 Cor 13:12
- Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”