Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them(Genesis 1:26,27).
In its original context, these seminal verses make 2 declarations:
1)among all created beings having alone been created in God’s image, mankind is unique; and
2)having been given the responsibility of reflecting the image of God, every member of the human race has value.
Taken from the Latin, for centuries theologians have called the concept imago Dei – mankind’s being created in, and therefore reflecting, the image of God.
Of all the acts of creation in the Genesis account, Adam’s is exceptional as is the creation of Eve. Dr. Kneeland Brown isolates two distinctions in the Genesis 2 narrative: “Number 1: man is the only being that God places His hand into. Number 2: man is the only being that God places His breath into. The image of God is representative of God placing something of Himself inside of us.”
But although Scripture is emphatic that of all creatures, man alone (male and female) is made in His image, the explanation of what it means to reflect the image of God is less obvious.
It has been understood to mean man’s capacity for moral judgment, ability to reason rather than respond by instinct, to be creative, to apprehend aesthetic design, to develop a depth of relationship with others and with the Creator.
Dr. Henry Morris explains the classical position as follows in the Genesis Record: being created in God’s image “must entail those aspects of human nature which are not shared by animals – attributes such as moral consciousness, the ability to think abstractly, an understanding of beauty and emotion, and above all, the capacity for worshiping and loving God”.
Morris pushes the concept further – maybe beyond the comfort threshold of many – when he reflects on the physical dimension: “although God Himself may have no physical body, He designed and formed man’s body to enable it to function physically in ways in which He Himself could function even without a body…There is something about the human body, there, which is uniquely appropriate to God’s manifestation of Himself”.
Whatever the concept of imago dei means in terms of our uniqueness of ability, it emphatically declares the concept of human value, or dignity regardless of facility or capacity.
Every person – no matter how young or old, without regard to physical ability or disability, irrespective of cognitive strength or relative weakness – has value. That dignity is exclusively derived from and contingent on, the Creator. And in the ultimate sense, human dignity can only be evaluated by Him.
That solitary truth alone governs how all human relationships are to be conducted: how I treat the inattentive teenager serving me at the checkout counter; how I react to the dismissive salesperson in the hardware store; how I demonstrate respect for the harsh – and insecure – boss; how I respond to the defiant 2-year-old.
And, it speaks volumes against the contemporary practices of abortion-on-demand and euthanasia.
Christian and Jewish philosophers have also explored man’s uniqueness in alone wondering the larger questions of ultimate meaning and purpose: why am I here? why do I exist?
And because God is a community of Three Persons – the Trinity – being created in His image speaks of our desire – our need – for relationship, for companionship, to love and be loved.
Human loathing of loneliness.
In reflecting on what it means to be created in God’s Triune image, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly reflected on his life as a grieving pre-adolescent orphan: “I could feel the depth of loneliness, and I think it’s probably one of the most profound, dark places for a human being to be.”
“If we bear the image of a relational God then our needs are relational, that cannot be met individually, so they must be met in community. So to be unconditionally loved is one huge longing in the human soul,” says psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb.
Takeaway: But here’s the biblical climax of the concept, two deeply profound ways in which the language of image-bearer pervades the Gospel to provide symmetrical theology:
- God would become a Man, taking on the very humanity which was originally created to reflect His image. Jesus of Nazareth was God; and because of the supreme perfection of the life He lived, we learn more about God by observing Christ than by any other source of revelation.
- Rebuilding His image in us. The image of God has been damaged and distorted in every person because of the effect and practice of sin. But the Gospel offers this symmetry of redemption: when baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, the image of Christ begins to incrementally, yet irresistibly be etched into that life. In a sense, the capacity to reflect God’s image in its completeness, is restored. Paul says it this way: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29).