Image of God – essence, existence, vocationby Liviu Anastase © 2007The two pillars of Adventist faith, evidenced by the name itself (Seventh Day Adventist Church) are the Sabbath and the Advent of Christ. The first is the essence of the Adventism, the sense, the sign of belonging to the remnant people of God and is a gift of partnership (existence) with God in the temporal dimension; the second, the destination (vocation) represent what this communion leads to. The Sabbath imparts the existence arch of time and projects us on the eternity, which begins with the return of Christ. “The world without the Sabbath”, said A. J. Heschel, “should be a world without a window that opens out from eternity to time”. The ‘present’ is category of being, and is experienced as immediate existence (as an alternative, we are aware of the past as memory and the future as expectation). Our eagerness to God is measured with the time conceded to God in our lives, and our availability to Him is evaluated according to the investment in this ‘present’ called Sabbath as a part of our being and a special time devoted to the search of God and others. The Sabbath rest, which is what we already have in our interiority, is the anticipation of the eternal eschatological Sabbath, which the Advent gives start to. The Sabbath that is beginning and the present (gift of Creation) together with the Advent – representing the future (eschatological gift) – are esclusive actions of God. Both this two events interest man directly: the Sabbath constitutes already, from the Creation onward, a part of man; the Advent instead is an event of which we can get just an anticipation as it is about a future participation. The return of Christ is not only interruption of time, but conversion, radical and unexpected exchange. Through it, God comes towards the human and surprises him giving the eternity, joining the essence and the potentiality towards the likeness to God.Dealing with the topic of the image and likeness of God, to such categories closed to us Adventists (Sabbath and Advent), might be find a more generic corresponding terminology: essence (present) and vocation (future).In this sense the image of God is not monolithic but articulated in two moments located at the beginning (Creation) and in the future (Advent). Between the primordial and the eschatological event there is the existence of the believer, a period tensioned by the presence of evil that partially distorts the image of God.The essence, the origin – the creatural aspect of the human being is affirmed by the premodern thought and by Christianity. The fact is that the image is not the original, but above all, it is nothing without the original because the image is not something empty, but has its origin in God. Therefore, it is about the conditioning to God, his rootedness in God, his structure that is of similar nature with God’s and his predisposition to the likeness of the Creator. The modern perspective describes man reduced to pure dimension of existence, uprooted from the divinity. Man is, in this version, open to the future (healing, progress), but without origins. This modern trend makes only a task out of the essence of man; that is why this is a deeply ‘anti-essentialist’ vision.The existentialism is the current describing the alienated condition of man. Theology (which reverses the dominance that existentialism gives to the existence in comparison to the essence) finds its place in the discourse inserting itself in the tension that exists between the essence of human and his existential alienated situation. Sin is something of universal extent describing the alienation from the divine essence. The essence remembers the beginning, when, in his essential structure man was created in a perfect correspondence to the image of God. Since the man was created “in his own image”, the Creation “was very good” (Gen. 1: 31 NIV).The vocation (destiny) is the second aspect of the image. Man does not bears within him the image given at the time of Creation but opens himself to the future, acknowledging its incompleteness, because he is not only ‘content’ but ‘task’ as well. The participation to the divine is not carrying out, as the result of our action, rather is an availability to be filled by the divine. The way to become an image of God is a historical process with eschatological outcome, rather then a ‘state’ because the human is/has not a fixed nature but is an open story. Therefore, “human-being” means “human-becaming” according to the image of God.Man was created with this great potential: to be image of God and to be more and more alike his Creator. The potentiality is not the perfection: it leaves room for continuous growth. This process is not the sum of many moments of imperfection that culminates with the fullness and completeness. Each moment of time holds its perfection that is not yet complete compared “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV).In these particular moments the spiritual presence of Christ, despite of the current human condition, inspires man with interest in the ‘essentialisation’. With the return to the essence, takes place a return to the primordial human. In this way, there is an anticipation of the sense of harmony that belongs to the human being as its own structure. Consequently, the imbalance and disharmony of alienated existence appear in their true light, emerging from their historical and individual disguises. Therefore, the fulfilment of the image of God in man does not exclude the essence – the source that animates his existence – nor the vocation that will come about in the future. The two sides are complementary one to another, are interwoven towards eschatological perfection of image.There is also a contrast between the essence and the vocation. In order to ‘become’ we must give up something. The human is required to surrender something of him in order to leave room for the divine intervention in his life. Meeting the divine, man exceeds himself, though, is Jesus that achieving a spiritual extension, has created the transition to the divinity. Christ covers both our intimity with divine power, and our exterior with a coat of grace; what He placed within us encounters what He brings to us, enhancing the space of our nature. In communion with Him, men become what they were intended to: the image of God.Jesus is the portrait of God, the true image of God on earth. Christ is the “firstborn among many brothers”, and the belivers are “predestinated to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29 NIV). In Jesus Christ, the true image of man appears clear and enlightened, without those deformations and obscure points inherent in any image of himself or others. In Jesus, God places before our eyes the image and likeness, the clearest that can be, so that we recognize what dignity we are called to. The humanization of Jesus Christ does not alter the beauty of divine image, but exalts it in a cosmic revelation because with his sacrifice Jesus claims the involving of human to the communion with God and with His own image.The category of image carries in itself the dimension of alterity, otherness, diversity, difference, because his essence is to be an image of Another and his job is to give testimony of Other. It carries in itself also the dimension of plurality and communion, because God who is the reason for his iconicity is the One God in three Persons, is the Source of communion and reciprocity.The idea of ‘image of God’ is used to describe the state of the incompleteness of the humankind. On the other hand, the vocation towards the likeness of God means also what man is already in the characteristics of his natural existence, because only in this condition that future can be stated as realization of the vocation itself. However, the return to the ‘essentialisation’ will be complete only with the new Creation, when the Creator will place no longer Himself in front of the creation, but will dwell in it. Everything is now sharing in the inexhaustible fullness of the divine life because of the dwelling of God among us. Now similarity to God is completely restored. The man will become, like in the early times of Creation, the perfect image of the Creator.