Happy Moltmann Monday, all! Tomorrow is book release day (!!!), so today I want to share a selection from Ethics of Hope where Moltmann talks about the foundational definition of original blessing that I give in the book. In this paragraph, he is discussing the distinction between the image of God and the likeness of God. Image is imago, likeness is similtudo. Humanity is made in both the image and likeness of God, but what does that mean, and what does it mean for the way we view human nature and sin?
Human life is imago Dei, similtudo means a life in accordance with God. That was the view shared by the Latin and the Greek Fathers of the church. If we understand the two as both being attributes of human nature, the quantifying question arises: how much can be destroyed by sin, and what is indestructible? It is a different matter if we understand the two relationally. Then the image of God (imago) means God’s relationship to human beings: God puts himself in such a relationship to the human being that the human being becomes his image on earth. Likeness to God (similtudo) then describes the human’s relationship to God. Sin is able to distort the human’s relationship to God in such a way that human beings in place of God make created things their idols, but it cannot destroy God’s relationship to human beings. Only God can rescind this, or withdraw it. Consequently the sinner remains God’s image as long as God holds fast to it. The dignity of the human being is to be found in this objective relationship of God’s to human beings; it is therefore non-disposable, inalienable, and indestructible.
For us to understand one of the fundamental problems with original sin, we have to look at our relationship with God as two-directional. There is God’s relationship with us, and our relationship with God. Original sin assumes that once Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, both directions were somehow marred, so that God has to do something to get back to us, and we have to do something to get back to God. But this is confusing image and likeness of God, and putting sin in a far more powerful position than it deserves. Our fundamental identity comes in being created and called good and loved by God. That identity does not waver, not because we are sinless but because God is faithful. Our imago Dei remains intact. And while it’s true that we can distort our likeness to God by our own actions, we cannot distort or destroy that relationship no matter what we do. God’s relationship to us is original blessing. Our relationship to God can vary, and does, often in dramatic ways. But we are held constant by the direction of steadfastness God holds toward us.
God never removes blessing, which is to say, God never chooses to leave this relationship with humanity. This is good news.
For us to understand the biblical story, we must begin with relationship, not with a question about our nature. Our nature, in fact, Genesis tells us, derives directly from relationship. That has never been in question in the text, although it’s often questioned in our theology. The minute we lose our focus on relationship, things invariably start to go awry. So we don’t begin by saying we have a sin nature. We can begin by saying God is in a relationship with us. And as part of that relationship, we are given a human nature, which is naturally and indestructibly connected to this relationship, even when we turn away from God in our actions and in our hearts.
We don’t have the power to destroy God’s relationship with us. What a relief. What a gift. You could even say it’s a blessing. :)