Keep It In Focus
By JIM NICHOLS
The editor sent me a message that she wanted a new photo of me. It was apparently an artistic request of some kind. I complied but realized that I am in the group of people who may not relish seeing a photographic image of oneself. I do not have a large complaint, just a preference. In our age of “selfies,” this may seem unusual, but have you ever asked yourself why selfies are so popular?
Photographs themselves are of keen interest to me, however. Especially before our age of digital photography, there was enough science and, frankly, mystery to taking a photo and developing it that fascinated me. As a boy my mind could be taken back to the American Civil War by the stunningly graphic pictures taken by Matthew Brady and others. It sparked an interest into the techniques used.
This was furthered by an uncle who was a professional photographer. He ran his business from his home and had a darkroom in the basement. It was like running a chemistry lab with the lights mostly off—very exciting for a ten-year-old boy. Taking a photo involved a brief exposure of light to a film layered with a light-sensitive chemical. This initiated a subsequent series of chemical reactions involving “developers” and “fixers,” action words that I liked. The most mysterious fun was being in the dark with only a red light on (adding to the suspense) and seeing the image gradually appear on the finished paper. The chemical odors of all this were unique and nearly intoxicating, almost literally.
Adding to this history was my science teacher speaking about the technique of making a glass lens that would bend and focus light. He correctly likened it to my own eyes and logically identified the applications in microscopes, telescopes, and—cameras.
There is a great deal of famous art that involves some physical representation of Bible characters and events. Around Christmastime, for example, we could see versions of wise men, shepherds, animals, as well as Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The painters did their spiritual best to create images that helped to tell important stories. I suspect I am not the only one who wishes we had not just painted images, but photographic images of some sort.
The word “image” is a common one in the Bible, but a difficult one for me to understand. The book of Genesis is hardly started (1:26) when God says, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness.” This is stated as if we are supposed to understand what is meant by God’s image and likeness, but to my knowledge this is never well explained. Obviously, this is not a true physical image such as a photograph, but it is still a recurring word and theme in scripture; it must be an important concept. Apparently, humans are created to resemble God in some notable ways; that is, we should be able to observe, cooperate with, and love one another and, in doing so, recognize God qualities in each other.
I suggest that one of the similarities we share with God is our eternal nature. I do not know where I was before today or where I will be tomorrow, but a part of my faith is that my spiritual life is a continuum. Another part of being image-bearers of God is that we have a special role as caretakers or stewards over creation (Genesis 1:28-30). This is a deep responsibility to treat the lives of our fellow humans as God’s image-bearers and the earth as God’s garden.
As partakers of God’s intimate nature, we also have a special moral status. We should not shed the blood of another human because “. . . in his own image God made humans” (Genesis 9:5-6). This is a hard saying in our common life of physical violence and war. In James’ book he takes this a step further and says we ought not even to curse those made in the likeness of God.
I submitted a few new photos of myself to the editor for her choice. We understand, however, that they are a rudimentary image of me. Such photos as those do not reveal the unique piece of God’s creation you and I are.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain