It is said in some strains of scholarship that there is something called the Q source: the one gospel in which all the other gospels in our Bible are rooted. It is said by still others that the Gospel of Thomas could be that Q source. You see, it has one the hallmarks of being the Q source, which is to be full of sayings. Indeed, the Gospel of Thomas is nothing but the sayings of Jesus, some of which aren’t even in the gospels of our Bible. Thus, some say the Gospel of Thomas is the root, the beginning of the gospels.
I think though, to get to the beginning, we really need to go back - not to the early years of the emerging Christianities - but to the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. Even the Gospel of Thomas in Saying 18 illuminates, “His followers said to Jesus, ‘Tell us how our end will be.’ Jesus said, ‘Have you discovered the beginning that you ask about the end? For, in the place where the beginning is, there the end will be. Blessed is the one who takes a stand in the beginning. That one will know the end, and will not experience death.”
As we start our year at the beginning, reading about the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, it’s a beginning you’ve probably heard before, and it’s one that can be discovered over and over again. For Christ’s words in this early Christian manuscript make me think of how the resurrection can only be the end game if we understand Christ in the context of his beginning - or I should say, how Christ may have understood “the beginning” - the cosmic beginning - in his time. That beginning starts with the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the creation of us as human beings.
We read that humankind was made in the image of God. There are thousands of permutations of interpretation of this simple idea, some of which are based on particular translations that are also multitudinous. You heard my re-interpretation earlier based on some of my Hebrew studies. All of these interpretations are trying to answer the question, what does it mean to be made in the image of God? It is, after all, the first purpose we read for humanity in the first creation account.
The one question leads to another: If we are made in God’s image, what is God’s image? In the second creation account, we are introduced to the tetragammaton, “YHWH,” often read as the LORD. (Whenever you see the LORD in all caps in the Bible, it is an interpretation of the tetragrammaton, or “YHWH”.) Though we say LORD, it is in fact a substitute for these letters that, in the Hebrew (יהוה), are all breathing letters - letters that come from a place of breath rather than hard pronunciation. The letters together defy being properly pronounced, as the name of God never really can be fully known and thus never fully uttered. The thought process behind this is that we can’t know God entirely. God is too great, too beyond, simply can’t be put in any box. God is ineffable, but this being the case, what then, does it mean to be made in God’s image?
To go off on a tangent that I promise will return us to the point, there is such an object in literature, specifically a mirror, that I think may help us to understand what it could mean to be made in the image of God.This mirror is fondly from the first book of the Harry Potter series and known as the mirror of Erised. The main character’s experience is thus: he finds the mirror of Erised in a room late at night, and when he looks at it, he sees his parents, both dead since he was a baby. Harry is so enthralled to spend time seeing his parents, he wants to show his best friend what his parents were like. So the next night, he shows his best friend, Ron, the mirror. Ron, however, does not see Harry’s parents, or even his own. Instead, Ron sees himself holding all of the top awards in the school and beating all of his older brothers in all the ways they were great before him. Not understanding, but not really caring, Harry returns night after night to stare at the reflection of his parents.
It has gotten so that the headmaster of the school decides to intervene and is there to meet him one night. The mirror, Harry comes to learn, shows what the viewer wants most. Now the point in the story is that it does not do to waste away watching dreams but not enacting them in the world. However much I agree with this, I want to point instead to the functioning of the mirror. The image in the mirror: it adapts and changes not the truth of what is, but as that truth is best understood by the person gazing into it.
So if I want to give credence to both of the creation accounts - if I want to say we are made in the image of God, but can’t really encapsulate God - can this be done? Is it possible to say God is too great to really know, while also embracing the idea that there is something of the stuff of God knowable in us? Perhaps to do this we can use the same device of the mirror. For the sake of this task, let’s ask the question: what is the mirror of God like?
Like man only knowing himself by knowing another human being in the second story, like each of us knows who we are by being in relationship with another human being, I suggest so does God know God’s self through us. To look beyond, Christ is an extension of this, becoming human to know this human to human relationship, to really be with us, and know God’s self that much better, to see the image a little clearer. Thus is God identified by being in relationship with each of us, with the entirety of creation. And how each of us was created was so “tov”, so good, despite what the fear in the world tries to imprint over that image. And let’s not forget that we continue to be created, even if it is in this world, God’s hands still move over us. We are many things in the course of our lifetime, even in our identity. God is reflected in all of this, too.
So we do the best we can. Rather than bringing no name, we bring many names, as we think they may be seen in God’s mirror. We know those names by seeing ourselves as God sees us, a reflection of divine dignity in your continued creation, as the truth of who you are in that moment. When God looks into God’s mirror, God sees each of us as we were created and continue to be created, and knows God’s self. In this way, we can know God through many names. We use many as it is: Jesus, Holy Spirit, Father, Son, Mother (as in the book of Isaiah), Almighty, Fertile One, Provider, Midwife, Emmanuel (one who is with us), and on and on. So I encourage you this year as we delve into our beginnings and resurrections - bring many names. Look for the image of God in yourself, over the course of your life, and in others.