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"In the Image and Likeness"

"The uniqueness of every human person"

by Philip Kariatlis

Part I

The most basic questions in life occasioning answers so that we can have peace of
mind and happiness are often related to discovering our distinct 'identity'. Those who
have not found answers to such questions are said to be suffering an "identity crisis"
which can lead to much anxiety and unhappiness. For this reason, it is not only
fundamental, but quite natural that we struggle to find answers to the questions
relating to our identity, such as: Who am I? From where did I originate? What is the
purpose of my life? What does it all mean? Is there any meaning in life? Where am I
heading? For most persons, it is not only during their adolescence that they usually
begin to search for meaning and identity, but certain life changing situations
throughout their life, such as: middle age; parents whose children marry and move on
in life; widowed persons will trigger these questions again and again. And it is only in
our struggle to discover our true identity that we are free to express the uniqueness of
our personhood and therefore to enjoy purposeful living. It is only in this great and
sacred effort on our part to find answers that we can attain peace of mind in this great
adventure we call life.

Different people will attempt to discover who they really are in different ways. Some
will derive answers from their the amount of material wealth they possess. Therefore
they will argue that they have more value than others not because of who they are but
because of what they possess. Others may base their identity on physical
appearance going to extraordinary extremes to improve their appearance as this,
they argue, could help in establishing some sort of better self worth and identity. Still
others will seek psychiatrists and psychologists hoping to discover who they are.
For many people, they will find answers in the sciences. So depending from their
area of interest or specialization, whether they are biologists, physicists, chemists or
geneticists, they will give different answers as to who the human person is. And we
must admit that the sciences go a long way in telling us about the human person, but
still instinctively we may feel that we have not gained the fullness of our identity.

Just from the above, we begin to appreciate just how difficult it may be to discover a
complete answer of who we are, given that in our society today the idea of what it
means to be a human person is many things to different people. Along with this,
society, profoundly influence by empirical positivism has argued that in our pursuit
for truth and identity only logical considerations which can be verified empirically are
valid. Therefore any beyond the sensory world is non existent. However very early in
our adult life we discover that our intellectual or rational capacities are but one aspect
of our life. Coupled with the confusion in this vast diversity of answers, we only need
to take a few moments to appreciate just how different, unique and distinctive each
person is. While it may be true that a group of people may lead similar lives, have
similar interests, yet they still are all distinct. Physiologically, there are no two people
that look the same, talk or think exactly the same way. Even identical twins will have
discrete differences that usually can be distinguished only by those who know them. It
is not enough to say that amongst the entire animal kingdom, the human race
occupies an exceptional position; it also has to be affirmed that within the human race
itself, each person possesses an irreducible uniqueness and therefore within each of
us there is a priceless treasure not to be found in anyone else.

For this reason, each person has the unique vocation to discover and become all that
they were created to be – and for every person this is entirely unique and
unrepeatable. The Greek poet, Elytes noted in one of his poems that even though
throughout the centuries all people in love may engage in the act of kissing, yet each
person will kiss in his or her unique and unrepeatable way. If one, hypothetically
speaking could gather all the human faces throughout the ages, there would be none
of exactly the same image. There is only one of me and one of you! Living this truth
alone would surely make every person to appreciate the infinite value of each person
thereby embracing all kinds of persons since they can add to the diverse beauty of
the world. However, more often than not we like other people only to the extent that
they are similar to us. However since there is an inexhaustible variety of human
person we are called to embrace the 'other' not despite his/her differences but
because of those very differences. I would add that this must be done because we
have been created not different from each other, but different for each other.

Since we are all unique, it follows that we cannot compare ourselves to others.
People have a unique calling in life to discover and live out their unique mode of
existence. And this uniqueness needs to be made a reality to our fullest potential and
in freedom. If for example, it was Christ's calling by His Father to become a human
person, live a certain number of years on earth fulfilling the signs of the expected
Messiah found in the Old Testament, then to die and resurrect then this is what He
had to do willingly and freely. For others it may be to live life not dieing for another, as
was Christ's vocation but working for the common good of society. Then this needs to
be undertaken the best of one's ability. If for others it may be to gain a certain
professional degree, then it needs to be used to serve society for its advancement.
Even those called to clean the streets have a sacred task and duty to society in that
they have promised the community that they will keep the streets clean and tidy.

Consequently, the difficulty faced in establishing our own identity is that it cannot be
made to conform to another person's identity. We must not seek to discover our
identity by becoming somebody else - be that our personal hero, a famous actor or
even simply a person who has been inspirational to us in our life and to whom we look
up – e.g. a teacher. Unfortunately, more often than not, we prefer to conform and that
is why we organize states, clubs, fraternities so that we can 'fit in' since we do not
want to be considered 'outcasts' or 'nerds'. We prefer conformity instead of diversity –
that is living the adventure of our personal freedom. Life is definitely not how much
good I can do or how I can improve my character by trying to conform to some form of
standards and morals. Rather in life we all need to embark on that difficult journey in
freedom to discover all that we have been created to be. But the question which
justifiably arises, is: how can I discover who I am? How do I know who I am? How do I
find and fulfill myself as a person? How do I find the ultimate meaning of existence?
How do I come to terms with my life in this ever-changing world?

Now, the question that begs answering is in what way can a Christian view of who a
person is add to a scientific or secular world view? Can the Christian vision help a
person struggling to discover their identity? For those who are linguistically
sensitive, the word alone for human person in Greek "anthropos" reveals something
of who we are. An-thropos literally means a creature that looks up beyond the
sensory world to the heavens, in contradistinction to an animal who looks down. In
other words, for a person to discover fully who they are, they need to look up to find
the answers and not simply act by instinct as the animal kingdom does. And if it
important for us to know who our Creator God says that we are, then it is to the
Church's teaching that we must turn to find the answer.

To God, the human person is more than simply flesh and blood; more that a
compound of complex substances; more than a complex system of obsessions; rather
the human person is a special creature whom God knows more intimately than
ourselves (cf Jeremiah 1:5), created in God's image (which means that we are
something like God) and stamped with His likeness (given the potential to become
everything that He is by nature, by grace). In order to uncover our true identity we
need to spend time reflecting to what extent we are like God. Just like the sciences
conscientiously examine our likeness with the animal kingdom, the same should be
done regarding what we have common with God.
Part II

It becomes clear that we must come to know God intimately so that we can discover
who we are since we are created in His image and according to His likeness. The
Christian answer to who we are begins with the affirmation that every human person
is created in the image and likeness of God. In Gen 1:26 we read: "Then God said,
'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness'." Such is the
Christian answer to who we are – every human person is an icon and ephiphany of
God. It follows therefore that God calls all human persons, in their own unique way, to
become, by His grace, power will, energies and love everything that He is by nature.
We are called to share in the very qualities of God. True happiness, inner peace and
joy will come about if we search to exist the way God exists. And since God is all-
wise, compassionate, merciful, loving, kind, desiring union with all creatures, we too
will find peace and joy in saying "yes" to living out all these qualities. Whether we
know it or not, or even accept it or not we are all created in God's image and
according to His likeness.

This means that there can be no definition of who a person is understood apart from
divine being, for the divine is the determining element in our life. The deepest element
of our being is God Himself. And we should hasten to add the true God. The good
news is that once we discover this truth and accept it then this becomes paradise for
us right down here on earth. And this is the satisfaction and fulfillment that all human
beings are thirsting and hungering for. However if we come to know this truth and
deny it, then this can become our anxious, worry ridden "hell" right down here on
earth. And with this usually comes a loss of freedom since we become entangled in
so many compulsions or addictions. Or else we make idols of things such as food,
power, prestige, pleasure, possessions etc. insatiable greed for power, knowledge
and status.

Having stated that the human person is created in the image and according to the
likeness of God, the question which justifiably arises is: what part of us is in God's
image? What is signified by the image of God? To be created in the image of God
implies, first and foremost that we are relational beings. We only exist to the extent
that we relate with others in a loving way. Therefore we would say: I need you in
order to become myself. Descartes, the great philosopher was partly right when he
affirmed, 'cogito ergo sum' (I know therefore I am); it is also vital to affirm, 'amo ergo
sum' (I love therefore I am) since this is what God does after whose image we have
been created. We are not called to be individuals competing with one another; rather
persons working together with others. The whole purpose of life is to develop from
this false sense of security in believing we are fulfilled as individuals to becoming
relational loving persons. How radical a teaching it is to believe that in giving up our
will for the sake of the other, we are not annihilated rather what is revealed in front of
us in world so beautiful as seen through the eyes of that other person leading to our

Furthermore, created in the image of God means we have the potential for growth
and maturity in all aspects of our life – knowledge, feelings etc. Not only are we
called to live life in a relational way but also to grow. Indeed that does not imply
growth only in this life, but for all eternity. The fathers of the Church teach that we
continue to have before us limitless possibilities yet unrealized and even in the life to
come we will endlessly grow towards unending perfection. The human person must
continue to become more aware and more conscious of the world around through his
or her powers of reason, introspection, and intuitive insight. And the more we
learn of the beauty of the world and how it functions the more this will lead us to a
sense of fascination, awe and gratitude to its Creator.

Lastly the image is to be seen reflected in our possession of free choice. God is free
so human beings, made in His image are free to choose. "Heaven, sun, moon and
earth have no free will" state the Macarian Homilies of the fourth century, "but you are
in the image and likeness of God; and this means that, just as God is His own master
and can do what He wishes and, if He wishes, He can send the righteous to hell and
sinners to the Kingdom, but He does not choose to do this… so, in like manner, you
also are your own master and, if your choose, you can destroy yourself." Therefore,
our vocation, as persons made in God's image is not to become copies of one
another, but through our freedom, to become authentically our own image. In the
world to come I will not be asked why was I not like Moses or why was I not Paul, but
why was I not Philip.

For such a glorious destiny have human beings been created since they have been
created in God's image and according to His likeness. That is, they have been
"ordered by God" (St Basil the Great) to be all that God is in His nature, by grace.
Human persons have infinite possibilities since they are the crown and fulfillment of
God's creation.

But sooner of later we see that we are like the earth, and will return to it one day. Not
only do we die, but through life there can emerge so many problems of loneliness,
fear and depression which make us realize just how frail we are. We see the
sufferings of others around us and ask what meaning can there be in all this. But in
this whole – and often difficult - adventure we call life we must never forget that God,
who created us all in a unique way purely out of His love, loves us more than we
could ever imagine. Moreover, this world which came into existence out of nothing
was created for us simply to enjoy – to enjoy God's beatitudes. The paradox is that
within us there exists a strange mixture, of feeling invincible yet frail; in the words of St
Gregory the Theologian of the fourth century, we are "earthly, yet heavenly….
midway between majesty and lowliness…. both spirit and fresh." Yet in all this we are
never to forget that we are created in God's image, all in a distinct and unique way,
capable of relating and mutual love, open to unending growth and self awareness and
entrusted with a free will. To end this brief examination of who we are, we quote a
passage from St Gregory of Nyssa, a father of the fourth century who wrote:
"For this is the safest way to protect the good things you enjoy; by realizing how much
your Creator has honored you above all other creatures, He did not make the
heavens in His image, nor the moon, nor the sun, nor the beauty of the stars, nor
anything else which surpasses all understanding. You alone are an icon of Eternal
Beauty, and if you look at Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him Who shines
within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in all creation can equal
your grandeur. All the heavens can fit in the palm of God's hand... and though He is
so great... you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells within you... He pervades your
entire being."