How a newborn bears God’s image

Zoe turned two weeks old yesterday.

As we spent time together in the hospital for the next few days, I kept looking at her, thinking about how a human could be so tiny and helpless and yet so captivating.

During one of our late night nursing sessions, I was reading through the New City Catechism. Question 4 asks how and why God created us, and answers that he created us male and female in his image to glorify him.

How, I wondered, does a helpless newborn reflect the image of an all-powerful God?

Image-bearing traits
Ways that I think of us  as bearing God’s image are all yet undeveloped in her. For example, there’s our creative capacity, our ability to in small ways make Somethings out of Nothings like our creator. Another example is our agency–our determination to make choices affecting our lives and environments, reflective of God’s agency and movement in creating and governing the world.

But a newborn has little to none of these. She cannot create anything but poop and pee; she cannot affect her own fate except by crying for someone else to do it for her.

Skin to skin
As I kept reflecting, one event stood out as showcasing God’s image even in her tiny life. Bill and I were brand new parents at the time (we still are, really) and figuring out what she might need whenever she cried. Zoe doesn’t cry much, and 85% of the time when she cries it’s because she’s hungry, so that was always our default assumption.

But a couple of times, she cried and we thought she was hungry, but what calmed her immediately was not milk but something we’d been advised to do by all our nurses: hold her skin-to-skin.

The medical benefits of doing this are numerous: it increases maternal milk supply, helps to regulate the baby’s body temperature and blood pressure, promotes parental bonding…

Hardwired for Intimacy
But it also showed me a completely unexpected facet of God. From a few hours old, he made her hardwired to desire intimacy. He planted in her a need for closeness that was impossible without great vulnerability on her part and ours, a shedding of both our outer garments and a nearness in which both of us were forced to be still.

Andy Crouch writes of how all of us reflect different positions on the axes of vulnerability and authority, but all of us begin with high vulnerability and low authority. What I had always thought of as “imagebearing traits” were authority traits: creativity, agency, power. But Zoe reminds me that just as much as God is authoritative, miraculously he shows in Christ that he is also vulnerable. He manifests as a pillar of fire but also as a newborn, naked and unashamed, who longs for closeness and nearness.

In this Advent season, we look to the newborn Jesus, who like all human newborns wanted to be held close. He would come to be not only an imagebearer but as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. To think that God who upholds the universe by the word of his power came in such a form, small enough to be swaddled and crying to be in his mother’s arms, is nothing short of miraculous.

 

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