What does it mean that we are created in God’s Image?

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Imago Dei

Genesis 1-2 tells us that God put a great deal of thought and intentionality into His creation of human beings. Indeed when God created humans, He altered both the rhythm and the function of all that He was creating. The end of the sixth day of creation is drawn out in Genesis, and God endows the last part of creation — people — with authority and responsibility over everything else that has been created.

But it is not only our authority that sets us apart from the rest of creation; it is also the way we were created. We are created as the imago Dei, as the image of God. The theology of imago Dei comes from Genesis 1:26-27, which says that we as human beings were created in the “image” and “likeness” of God Himself.

Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

So what does this mean?

Does it mean we look like God? No, we do not look like God. God did, however, choose to look like us for some 33 years!

Being made in God’s image and likeness is not about what we look like on the outside, it is what we are composed of on the inside. It is not our mortal body that displays God’s likeness, it is rather our immaterial and eternal being. We are God’s image in our essence.

Just like God, we are rational and morally responsible beings. But we are more than just rational. We think, feel, and act with our entire being. We are different than anything else in creation. In Genesis 1-2, God speaks to everything He creates — and everything He creates comes into existence and does their thing. But when God speaks to the humans, the humans can speak back. We have passions, feelings, thoughts, and opinions that matter; and we are each created with purpose.

We are also eternal beings. We have a soul that will live forever either in the presence of God or separated from Him. Our soul is our unique essence. It is the uniquely formed incorporeal person and personality that defines just how one-of-a-kind each of us are.

And we also have a spirit. Our spirit is a shadow of the divine that is deep within us and intricately connected to the essence of our being. Our spirits are a part of our created being, and they are meant to be connected to God. If we choose to live our existence disconnected from God, our spirits will never be satisfied. Nothing else but a relationship with the One True God can fill our eternal longings. Speaking of eternity, here are some thoughts I had recently:

How long is eternity? Imagine a complete and unbroken highway that stretches around the Earth from East to West. It goes across land, mountains, valleys, and water in a complete circle around the Earth. As you travel this highway, you always see the horizon in front of you. It always seems like you are heading toward the horizon and getting closer to it, and yet the highway never ends. The distance between you and the horizon never changes. The sun will rise and set in front of and behind you, but the horizon will never be reached. An unending and unreachable horizon, always before you but never reached. That’s Eternity.

Perhaps you have gazed up at the cosmos through a telescope and seen some indescribable beauty. Or maybe you’ve been whale watching, or been to the top of an amazing peak, or seen incredible things under a microscope…and yet the Bible says that ONLY human beings are created in God’s image. We are the crowning glory of all that He created. In God’s opinion, we are the most beautiful and fascinating part of all He created.

For Further Reflection:

For those of you who enjoy a little deeper study of theology and history, consider the following summaries and quotes from some early theologians along with a Roman Catholic and Reformed perspective as well. Many of these theologians took the “image of God” idea very literally, that just as God has three parts to His essential being, so also do we.

-Origen (AD 185-284): The part of human beings that is created in God’s image is not the body because flesh is evil. God’s image is contained only in the soul and spirit of a person. Just as God has three persons, so the human being has an “inner person . . . which is invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immortal.”***

Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-394): Human beings are created in the image of God in three parts: existence itself, the mind and its knowledge, and the ability to love.

-Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430): For Augustine, the “trinity” expressed in human beings as the image of God was the memoria (memory), intelligentia (mind), and amor (love). He said, “Man’s excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul, which raises him above the beasts of the field.”

-Thomas Aquinas (AD 1224-1274): “Therefore things without intellect are not made to God’s image . . . It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God’s image.”

Westminster Larger Catechism (AD 1647): “After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man out of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls [this is man’s constitution]; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness [this is the image of God in man]”.

LineSeparator***Origen believed that human flesh cannot be in the image of God, since it is the image of man and the result of sin (1 Corinthians 15:49). In other words, man was originally created in God’s image, but the fall tainted that image. Jesus restored that image in Himself, but for the rest of us it is only when Christ makes all things new that the image will be restored.

[Origen’s solution was that there were two separate creations. Genesis 1 is the account of the creation of the universe and human beings before there was sin. For Origen, who believed that God most likely created multiple universes, Genesis 2 is the account of the creation of the human body which would be corrupted by sin.]

2 thoughts on “What does it mean that we are created in God’s Image?

  1. phil says:

    In my musings on this topic, I’ve boiled it down to free will or “choice.” God made humans in His image by giving us the ability to choose. Each choice, as C.S. Lewis put it, is ultimately a choice between ourselves and God. What we want or what God wants.

    This may seem like some deep theological discussion with little relevance to our daily lives, but to me it was a pivotal realization that is now foundational to my entire faith. Without choice I am a glorified robot. Without choice, I am not culpable for my sins, or even capable of sinning.

    As a robot without choice, love is meaningless. For Love to be real, a person must choose to love. Forced love is no love at all. God has revealed himself to us as Love. I think God wanted to create a way to truly express his love in relationship with other beings. To have a true love relationship, we have to have the ability to reject him.

    To me, this ability to choose and this love relationship that God desires negates the argument for strict predestination. God gives us the ability to choose him or not. Our free will is what makes our relationship with him real. It is a requirement for sin (and for punishment of sin to be fair), belief, and love – three of the most foundational elements of our faith.

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