“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” – John Calvin
The knowledge of self and the knowledge of God are interdependent. The two are so finely knitted into a system of inference that there is no true knowledge of self without firstly knowledge of God.
Human nature has it the other way round, what we do instead is we try to go from our understanding of ourselves and use that as a platform to try and understand God. Which simultaneously and consequently leads to a poor knowledge of ourselves and even a worse and abhorrent view of God. We must begin with the latter if we have any hope of seeing ourselves rightly.
This is what was see in Isaiah 6 when the Prophet Isaiah is given an image of God, he immediately becomes aware of himself and his sin. This is the same with Peter when he goes fishing with Jesus and there is a miraculous catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response to witnessing the divinity of Christ is to falls to his knees cry out ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord‘” (Luke 5:8).
“For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy–this pride is innate in all of us–unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured”- Serene Jones
Once we begin to see and understand God for who He is, we will also begin to see and ourselves for who we are. We see in Genesis 1:26 of God’s desire to create man “in our image (tselem), after our likeness (demut).” it is vital importance that if we are to be image bearers, we must first spend to time understanding what that image is. So how do we do so? Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us ample information to do so.
The are two main categories when we look at the attributes of God in scripture.
There is firstly the incommunicable attributes of God. These are the attributes of God which belong to God and God alone. Only God is Omnipotent (Isiah 40:28), only God is Omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:24), only God is Sovereign (1 Timothy 6:15) , only God is Immutable (Malachi 3:6) and only God is Omniscient (Romans 16:27). These are all attributes which can only be true of God and cannot be true about us.
The second category are the communicable attributes of God. These are the attributes of God which are true about God but can also be true about us. God is love therefore we can be loving (1 John 4:8) but we do so imperfectly. God is just and thus we can have a sense of justice but once again, we do so imperfectly. God is the creator and so we can be creative, however cannot do so ex nihilo (from nothing) as God has. These are the communicable attributes which as a result of being made in his image ‘imago dei’, God shares to some extent with us.
What we tend to see today is that because of the poor understanding of God we have, we tend to gravitate towards the first category, we try to possess attributes which are only true about God. Human nature has us trying to become god in our lives. Naturally we strive to be all knowledgeable, we strive to be sovereign, we want to be all powerful, these are all traits we see in developments of modern technology. Even as christians we fall into this same trap, we also want to be sovereign. How often do we pray that our will to be done rather than God’s. We spend so much time focusing on the incommunicable attributes but it is important that we understand that God is completely and utterly distinct from us. The incommunicable attributes of God are what make God, God. When we fail to realise this we tend to become god in our own lives. Instead when we see that we cannot possibly possess these incommunicable attributes, we are then able to see our condition, where we fall short and why we are in need of a Saviour. The incommunicable attributes of God should cause us to behold Him for who He is, it should lead us to worship and treasure the Creator. This then leads to enjoy our sharing in God’s communicable attributes which is only possible due to His design and for His glory. If we do not see God rightly, it proceeds to rob God of his glory and leads to a misunderstanding of what it means to be an image bearer.
“Know God. Know yourself. Know yourself to know your need of God. Know God to know you are not gods.”
To be an image bearer is to bear the communicable attributes of God. When we try and bear the incommunicable attributes we no longer bear the image of God but instead create idols. As Jen Wilkin brilliantly puts its, ‘working towards the incommunicable attributes is to say I am instead of acknowledging the I AM’. To be an image bearer means that when people see us, they ought to see something about our character which teaches them something about who God is. Genesis 1 teaches us that we are made in the image of God, Genesis 3 teaches that something abhorrent and terrible happens to that image, so now the goal of our salvation is not simply to be forgiven and escape hell, but it is primary to restore this image of God.