The church noticeboard was changed each week, to advertise the next Sunday sermon. I glanced at it as I usually do when I drove past on my way to a funeral. ‘Jesus – God’s selfie’ it read. Nah, I thought.
I associate ‘selfies’ with narcissistic tourists or manipulating ‘influencers’ trying to get a following, when they post them online. (I do admit I have tried to take a couple of selfies myself, with very mixed results – but I wouldn’t dream of posting them.)
To think then of Jesus as being some vain image of God was very off-putting.
I started to have second thoughts.
A selfie captures an image of the photographer at a particular point in time, just like any photograph does. It’s an instant image, whether it’s posed or not, taken at a particular angle. It doesn’t have to be posted on Facebook. In itself, a selfie is simply a photograph.
Jesus – God’s image?
Is Jesus like that? An image of God at a particular time, in a particular setting?
It dawned on me that yes, Jesus was a bit like that. He did live in a particular place and time, for 33 years, was both a carpenter and a rabbi, and an itinerant teacher. He knew the seasons, understood the geography and the flora and fauna of his native country, belonged to a family, and had friends and followers.
He understood the history and the religious context of his native land, and what it was like to live under the occupation of the Romans. He taught people and healed them, and ruffled the feathers of the religious leaders of the day. He died a cruel death on a cross at the age of 33.
Those are some of the particulars of Jesus’s life, of his setting. That’s the angle of the ‘selfie.’
An image is more than just a selfie
Yet that portrayal is not sufficient, in the same way that a ‘selfie’ is never going to be more than just a snap of a person. Any person is much more than a photograph, selfie or not, even if it is a flattering one that is carefully posed.
As Paul the Apostle put it, Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God.’ When we see Jesus we see what God is like, in human terms. The term we use for that is not ‘selfie’ but rather the word ‘incarnation.’ That word means that God is fully embodied in Jesus, and is a much fuller word than ‘selfie’ could ever be.
One man’s life
Shortly afterwards I parked the car and walked to the chapel in time for the funeral of a former colleague. “There’s a lot of people coming to this funeral,” I noted, because the car park in the chapel grounds was already full.
The funeral venue was over-flowing, as were the tributes to a much-loved family man who had lived a full life. There were many photographs of him throughout his life, and some wonderfully warm and human tributes to a man of faith who lived his life with integrity, humour, and graciousness.
I reflected afterwards on the way in which this man had so surely and naturally reflected the image of God during the time I had known him, and in the way so many had come to his funeral to honour him. His funeral was a rich and full portrait of who he was, and who he had been. It was far more than an instant photo.
Jesus – the incarnation of God
It’s a pointer to when we think about Jesus and his ‘incarnation’, but that word takes us even further than the word ‘portrait’ does.
When we talk about the incarnation we are saying that all the qualities and character that are found in God are also seen in Jesus. God is love – we see that love in Jesus. God is light – we see that in Jesus. God is a healer – we see how Jesus healed people. God is merciful – we see that mercy expressed in the way Jesus dealt with people who knew their need of forgiveness and of grace. We see what God is like in the stories Jesus told; The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Lost Sheep are examples. We can know God as the all powerful One, totally immanent presence because Jesus came back from the dead, promising to be with us always, by his Spirit.
Jesus shows us what God is really, really like
God is not unknowable, remote, and someone or something to be guessed at. God is not merely a force. God is not to be equated with ‘the universe’, or some other entity or being. It’s in Jesus, we can get some idea of what God is really like.
A ‘selfie’ is a photograph of a person. Jesus too is the image of God as a person, but because of the incarnation we can have a far fuller understanding of who God is, than what a mere selfie can provide.
A portrait shows what the artist has seen, as he/she spends hours contemplating the subject and then choosing how to portray that person on canvas.
The incarnation goes far beyond a photo or a portrait – it means God coming in human form; God himself coming to live with us.
On my return down the street after the funeral, I glanced at the sign again. ‘Jesus - God’s selfie.’ Yep, I thought, but he is so much more. And we can come to know him for who he is.
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.