Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
DEFINITION: Human beings resemble God in that they have personality, morality, and spirituality; further, they represent God as His agent to the animals and the rest of creation. Although sin has marred the image of God in everyone except Christ, the image is not destroyed.
The Bible never defines precisely the image of God (imago Dei in Latin), so this important concept has received close attention. The Old Testament term “image” could be translated “representation,” and many of its instances in fact refer to idols as images of a person or animal (Ezk 7:20). The Old Testament term “likeness” implies comparison—explaining one thing by relating it to another. Thus mankind may be partly understood by looking at God. (If the comparison went the other direction, we would say that God is the image of man—and the Bible is full of warnings not to reduce God to man’s idea of Him; Is 40:18.)
The personality aspect of mankind’s bearing the likeness of God includes both intellect and affections. Intelligence, rationality, and the ability to think are other terms used to describe intellect. The affections—understood more broadly than the usual term “emotions”—include feelings and determination, but not merely “bodily passions,” such as pain and appetite, which are limited to physically induced feelings. The affections move one to act, and both God and the angels (without bodily existence) are endowed with such affections. Thus both God and mankind may set their love on specific objects or persons. Because God is love, mankind may love as well (1 Jn 4:16).
The morality of mankind means the ability to choose what is right. God’s perfect holiness (righteousness) means that He always does what is right. Mankind’s fall into sin means that our moral “chooser” is broken so that we are apt to choose that which is morally evil rather than that which is morally good. Salvation includes persons receiving new hearts that will freely choose God and good, ultimately resulting in the holiness of all the saints in heaven. Because God is holy, mankind may be holy as well (1 Pt 1:15-16).
Spirituality includes the ability to relate intimately to others face-to-face. God exists in the perfect relationship of the Persons of the Trinity; human beings may know each other—and they may know and be known by God. Further, “spirit” or “soul” refers to that component of a human surviving bodily death. Because God is spirit, mankind has spiritual capacity as well (Jn 4:24).
The representation aspect of mankind as God’s likeness means that to the animal world (and the rest of the created order), man has a Godlike role. This function of humanity’s rule over the creation has continued since mankind’s fall into sin, although often in a distorted way. For example, the only “God” that pets or wildlife experience is their master or tamer.
REFLECTION: How essential is it to believe that every human life bears God’s image? How does knowing that you bear His image affect your connection to Him? To other persons? To animals?
PRAYER: Eternal God, thank You for giving me the privilege of bearing Your image. And forgive me for the times I willfully distort that image as I relate to You and to others. Help me respect every human being I encounter as worthy of honor for also bearing Your image. Amen.