On Being Transformed Into Christ's Image

When I was still in grade school I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s compelling short story the “Great Stone Face.” In this fictional story the Great Stone Face juts out from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and looms over a small village. There is a little boy named Ernest who grew up in this quiet village admiring – even reverencing – the stone face whose immense countenance shown from the distant mountain. The face reflected not only courage and wisdom, but love, forbearance, and goodness. Noting her son’s devotion to what the villagers called “Great Stone Face” she told him of a tradition that dated back to the times when Indians roamed those parts, which was that one day a person of eminence would come to the village and would be a special blessing to the people – and he would bear the likeness of Great Stone Face!

As he grew up, and on into old age Ernest continued to admire the Great Stone Face – its reflection of gentleness and humility. He bonded with that “person” etched in stone, and his heart’s desire was that he might live to see the one who would come in his likeness. So like many others Ernest waits, wonders, and watches the faces of returning famous men for signs of the gentle wisdom seen in the face of the mountain. But no one ever came. Ernest had grown old. Several eminent men did come to the village during those years: one was immensely rich, another profoundly wise. As each appeared and blessed the people it was supposed that he must be the Great Stone Face. The rich merchant, however, is grasping, the soldier only stern, and the politician is – well, a politician. But no, the countenance of the one etched in the distant mountain – his magnanimity and philanthropy – was not in either of the eminent men.

As he grows even older, people remark that they fear they will never see the prophecy fulfilled in their lifetime. Then one evening at a community gathering, when the golden rays of the setting sun shone on both Great Stone Face in the distance and on Ernest sitting by the pond, his face now craggy from the passing years, the likeness was unmistakable. A neighbor cried out, “Ernest, you are the Great Stone Face!” The verdict was evident. The villagers agreed. The one who had lived among them for so long with tender loving care, himself a devoted disciple of Stone Face, had through the years, been transformed into his likeness.

As for Ernest, he could not believe that such a one as he could be the Great Stone Face. He went on his way with his eyes fixed on the distant mountain, still hoping that such a one would on day come to his village.

We can’t be sure what Hawthorne meant by that story. I see it as having Christian overtones. If in our hearts we sing to our Lord, “Oh to Be Like Thee”, and it is the ongoing passion of our heart, we will gradually, little by little, take on his likeness. Each of us will take on that likeness in our own unique way, and at different levels of glory. We become like him by being with him in spirit – to follow his teaching and example, to believe and hope and love as he did, to accept his values. We are not simply to believe in Jesus, but to believe him, such as when he said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

We are all the more encouraged to seek Christlikeness when we realize it is God’s eternal purpose for us: “For whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). If it is a spiritual likeness to Christ in this world, it is a (glorious) bodily likeness in the world to come: “As we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of heaven” (I Corinthians 15:49). Surely this mind-boggling promise qualifies as “exceedingly great and precious,” superlatives used in 2 Peter 1:4.

Hawthorne might have been influenced by 2 Corinthians 3:18 in creating his story. In that passage Paul has the believer continually beholding the image of Christ in a mirror, while the poet has Ernest continually looking upon Stone Face nestled in a mountain. The believer is gradually “being transformed into that same image” from one level of glory to another. Hawthorne has Ernest becoming more and more like Stone Face all his life, from childhood to old age. And just as others see Christ in the believer, others saw the Great Stone face in Ernest.

Christ Likeness is both our mission and our destiny.

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