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Diversity and Unity: Further Up and Further In

Justin Ryals


C. S. Lewis says of human nature and destiny,

"[God] makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. … Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance." (Problem of Pain, 151-2)

Elsewhere he states life works “like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good” (Great Divorce, viii). The one statement describes human persons in all their variation and particularity. The other alludes to the ever-expanding complexity of that variety, like an ever-increasing richness of musical polyphony. And as Dorothy Sayers mentions in The Mind of the Maker, "the stronger the diversity, the more massive the unity" (53).

I was driven to reflect on this question of the nature, potential, and teleology of humanity when recently I was reading M. I. Finley's The Ancient Greeks and came across this statement:

"It is sometimes said that the anthropomorphism of the Homeric poems is the most complete, the most extreme, on record; that never before or since have gods been so much like men …; that this is a terribly naive view of the divinity. No doubt it is, but it is also something else, something perhaps far more interesting and significant. What a bold step it was, after all, to raise man so high that he could become the image of the gods." (27)

Finley adds that this perspective was “pregnant with limitless possibilities” (ibid.). He affirms how naive was the Greeks’ anthropomorphism of divinity, but suggests the other side of this coin shows how high was their view of man. This seems to be a common view among academics but the idea is rather problematic. It’s unclear how a low conception of divinity can imply a high conception of humanity when the latter is simply the image of the former. If the gods are small, then man, bearing their image, cannot be great.

It is rather the case that the greater one’s view of the divine, the greater must be that which bears its image. The lower one’s view is of the divine, the lesser is that which bears its image. Within the Christian vision of the Imago Dei, in which humanity encapsulates a kind of analogy of the infinite God, the meaning, worth, and potential of the image of God cannot, in a sense, be described as finite (limited) as it bears the image of the infinite. In other words, within this (meta-) narrative the image of God is a finite being but with genuinely limitless potential for ever-increasing love, joy, creative activity, and every other human capacity in an eternally dynamic dance with the Infinite.

This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ memorable phrase from The Last Battle, for humanity to ever move “further up and further in,” into the unceasing and inexhaustible outpouring of the life, love, joy, and creativity of God, thereby always expanding the human capacity to image God more fully to one another and back toward its source in love and bliss. Surely, this is a divine image worth bearing.