All this year I’ve slowly been making a case for the possibility that society could be good. Some people will rail against this idea because they believe that only the cloister of the church is the place of real community and meaning; it is often assumed that only what happens as we collectively worship, preach and pray has spiritual significance.
I’m not sure that’s strictly true.
In Genesis 1 God says to himself ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve caught myself talking out loud to myself a few times lately. But what’s happening here is slightly different in that God is talking to himself using the personal pronouns ‘us’ and ‘our’. Is God just talking to himself? Well…yes! But not in the way that I as one person mutter away to myself; he is talking amongst himself because he is more than one. He is three - In One. He is One Being, yes. But he is three persons in that one being.
So when God talks amongst themselves to resolve human beings into existence, he does so in making human beings plural as he is plural. In the same way that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so human beings are male and female; small, medium and large; young, middle-aged and old; peely-wally, olive-skinned and brown. In other words, when we say that humans are created in God’s image, we are saying that we are created in the likeness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who speak among themselves. Humans are created plural. We are made different but complementary. We are made as society.
Phew! Coffee on. And chocolate biscuits.
When it is said that someone is made in God’s image, most people I converse with today assume human beings are only individuals. But that is not what is conveyed in Genesis 1. Human beings conveyed as individuals is a nasty hangover of the Enlightenment anyway. Rather, human beings are God’s image because we are made as people who live cheek by jowl with others. We are plural as God is plural. I am who I am because of my family, because of my friends, because of my colleagues, because of my neighbours, because of whom I read, because of who I imbibe on YouTube. And you are who you are because of me.
To be God’s image, God’s ikon, his reflection, is to be one among several or many. That is why society is so important. To shape our society in certain ways is crucial because all people together are God’s image. All humans on one planet reflects more accurately God as Father, Son and Spirit. Once we grasp that being God’s ikon, his reflection, is something social as God is community, we come to terms with why working towards a good society is worth every effort.
Think Father, Son, Spirit – think society. That is why all humans are of inherent value. That is why, therefore, society matters.
Dr Stuart Weir, National Director of CARE for Scotland