“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.”
Colossians 1:15 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Christ — our king, our leader — is the visible image of the invisible God. But that begs the question: how do people experience the visible image of God in Christ, when Christ is no longer walking the earth in physical form? The simple, overwhelming answer is this: people experience the image of Christ in us. Their experience of God’s grace, love, patience, understanding, forgiveness, wisdom — all this and more happens through interactions with the followers of Christ.
The visible image. The word translated as “image” in Colossians 1:15 is eikon. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Robert Martin, says this about this word: “… over the centuries icon came to signify not only ‘image’ generically conceived, but more. Icon has come to mean the incarnational and sacramental quality of God’s reflection in disciples of Christ.”
This has profound implications for our understanding of leadership. If we are called to lead — and live — iconically, it is imperative that we first understand who it is that we are called to reflect.
We understand God as “Triune,” meaning three in one. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But this can be a very difficult concept to understand. If there are three separate “persons” in the Trinity, how do they relate to one another? How can three be one?
The theological term “perichoresis” describes how these unique persons relate. In Greek, the prefix peri means enclosing, surrounding, and the verb choreo means to make room for or to contain. The three are constantly moving in and through each other, and are perpetually indivisible. This movement is sometimes described as an “eternal dance” within the persons of the Trinity.
This relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit is, quite simply, perfect. The Trinity is a full, vibrant community in and of itself. Humanity was not needed in order to fill a vacancy in their spiritual communion. We are not needed to fill a function or to mitigate loneliness. The Trinity created us for relationship out of love and joy. Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it this way: “The world is not necessary to God; yet at the same time it is no way peripheral to his being or incidental, for it expresses the self-diffusive love that is precisely at the very heart of the living God.”
Through his life on earth, Jesus powerfully and inextricably linked the divine with the mortal. We have been invited to participate in the divine relationship, partnering with God in healing and transforming the world.
How amazing it is to realize that God’s love for us is so great, that the same God who created the universe has invited us — small, flawed, wayward us — into loving relationship.
We are called to live iconically, leading with grace, humility, and joy because by doing so we are participating in the relationship of the Trinity, which has its foundation in that self-diffusive, self-giving love.
Next up: we’ll look at where we begin our quest to live and lead this way.
What does it mean to you that you have been invited to participate in the loving relationship of the Trinity?