Let us make man in our image
Picture God-like-ness. How does it look? What is it to be God-like?
Well Genesis 1:26 speaks of ‘the image of God’ and it’s one of the most discussed verses in all the Bible:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion…”
What exactly is the image of God? That’s been a question that has rolled on down the centuries.
Humanity is in God’s image. No other creature shares this dignity. But what is it?
Predictably enough, misconceptions of the image of God follow misconceptions about God Himself.
So first there’s the Power-God misconception. This states that the ultimate fact of God is His power – or, to use a technical term, His ‘omnipotence’.
Those enamoured of the Power-God point to the end of the verse. “Look,” they say, “the image is about ‘dominion’. Being God-like is having power.”
Well certainly the dominion is linked to the image. But the dominion doesn’t seem to be equivalent to the image. It seems to flow out of the image.
The other misconception I’ll mention is the Wisdom-God misconception. This states that the ultimate fact of God is His knowledge (‘omniscience’ for those who like latin words). For such people, God is an Infinite Mind. So, obviously, what else would ‘the image’ be except our own rational capacities? The logic runs something like this:
‘The image’ is unique to humanity
Self-conscious rationality is unique to humanity
Therefore, rationality is ‘the image’.
You can tell they’re clutching at straws can’t you?
But it’s surprising how pervasive this view is. We readily distinguish our species by the name homo sapiens – “knowing man”. Philosophers describe us as ‘rational animals.’ We think therefore we are, right?
Well, certainly rationality flows from ‘the image’, but let’s think about what this verse is actually saying.
First, understand that the words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are just very basic words for ‘lookalike.’ They’re the kind of words you would use for the statues at Madame Tussaud’s. God is not making ants He can crush. Or drones He can look down on. We are not exhibits for His zoo. He’s making creatures with whom He can share life. He wants to invite us to eat at table – to share ‘face-to-face’ friendship. It would almost seem blasphemous to say such things, but the Bible speaks in these terms time and again. ‘The image’ has radical implications for how we think of our relationship with God.
Secondly, let’s notice how verse 26 begins: “Let us.” Here is a conversation happening among multiple Persons.
There’s a joke about bureaucracy that says “a camel is a horse designed by committee.’ Actually the Bible would tell us a horse is a horse designed by Committee. Creation is designed by a Divine Committee and when it comes to humanity that truth is brought to the fore. “Let us.”
The Persons of God uniting in common purpose are going to make a special species. And the verse goes on…
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27)
A multi-Personal God would not be properly imaged if there were just a lot of blokes about the place. The God who is different Persons united in love creates a people who are themselves different persons – male and female. And, as the end of Genesis 2 teaches, man and woman are to become “one” in committed love.
So it is with humanity, so it has always been with God.
We image God’s life in that God has always been a community of other-centred love. Whether we consider the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, each Person has always loved God and their neighbour. Even before there was a universe!
And this God brings a world into being and places humanity at its head. He wants these creatures particularly to share His life and so He makes them like Him – persons in relationship, drawn into God’s own relationship.
Now that we’re thinking along these lines, of course the special dominion of humanity will follow. And of course the special intelligence of humanity is required. But the image is first a relational truth. It denotes our special relationship to God and, secondarily, to each other as persons in relationship.
Perhaps then we should ditch homo sapiens. Maybe homo adorans (loving man) would be better! Those are the ways we will think when we understand God’s image relationally.
So now… picture God-like-ness. Does it look like Absolute Power? Does it look like Infinite Mind? Or does it look like Persons in loving communion?
Now picture flourishing humanity? What will that look like?
How does ‘the image’ shape your view of God, of yourself and of others?
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