Tanner on Human Nature: Part 3, Better and Better Mirrors

So, human nature can reflect the image of God, strongly so, by "showing off the light of the divine image itself...by glowing with a light that remains another's." 

From that vision of what it means to carry and reflect the image of God, Kathryn Tanner goes on to make another fascinating point, how the divine image remolds, remakes, and reshapes human nature. She makes the point in Christ the Key, contrasting how natural objects versus human beings reflect the image of God:

All creatures can do something like this showing off or shining back the divine glory given to them. Even now creatures can glorify God, glow with a kind of divine penumbra by pointing to, and in that sense making manifest, the goodness of the God who made them. The wonders of the world speak of the wonders of God...

What remains unusual about human beings--and what therefore makes them the image of God as other creatures are not--is that the character or identity of human life is remolded in the process. Humans do not simply reflect the image of God. In doing so something happens to human life itself. Its very own character is altered or transformed for the better. Humanity takes on, in short, its own perfect shape by being reworked through attachment to the divine image.

By way of this attachment, its very human character becomes an image of God in a stronger fashion than before, beyond anything possible simply by participating in God as a creature...[H]uman nature becomes, so to speak, imprinted with the character of the divine seal itself by way of the impression that the very presence of the divine image makes upon it.

To summarize, humans don't simply reflect the image of God because they possess some natural endowment, like rationality. Although our created natures, like those of trees and stars, do reflect the glory of the God who made us. In addition, reflecting the image of God is more than passive reflection, like that of a mirror. Thus Tanner's big point: Because of the plasticity of human nature, reflecting the image of God is active, developmental, and formational. Unlike a mirror reflecting back light, human nature is changed in the process of reflection, becoming a clearer and brighter reflection, a better and better mirror if you will. Alone in creation, only humans have this ability to reflect back the image of God to greater and greater degrees.

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