The Image of God


For most of my life, I didn't give much thought to what Genesis meant when it said that humanity was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). As a kid, I probably assumed it meant that God was humanoid. Even though I knew he was a purely spiritual being, the art representations I always saw were consistent about his looking like us. At some point I realized that didn't make any sense though, so I decided that "image of God" must refer to something else that elevates humanity above the rest of the animal kingdom. Sentience, perhaps? A soul (whatever that is)? I was thinking vaguely at best.

At some point in my study through the New Testament, I was reminded of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Talking about Christians, he said that we're "being transformed into [God's] image with ever-increasing glory." A popular buzzword I heard growing up was "Christ-like." Christians are supposed to be like - to imitate - the man whose name they bear. I always assumed that this is what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 3:18: that as Christians mature in their faith, they become more and more like Christ, who of course we believe to be God himself. And that's absolutely correct, but then I realized that Paul's vocabulary in that verse connects what he's saying with Genesis 1 about our being created in God's image. If we were created in the image of God, why do we need to be transformed into the image of God? Weren't we already created that way?

The obvious answer is the Fall. Humans were created in the image of God, but lost that image when we rebelled. We quit looking like God. Through following Christ though, we're able to regain what we lost.

In very recent years, I've added to that understanding the notion that being God's image isn't just an existential state. It's a job. John Walton explains this very well in his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve and that shaped my thinking a lot. God doesn't just plop humans into a garden and leave them alone to frolic all day. He gives them responsibilities: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." There's a lot of unpacking in those terms and Walton's a great resource for understanding them, but the short version is that "subdue" and "rule" aren't about bending Creation to humanity's will. It's about assisting God in bringing order to the world.

We were created as partners for God in his ongoing work to perfect Creation. Of course I believe that God could have created a perfect world right from the beginning. It wouldn't have involved any amount of Free Will, but he could have done it that way. Instead, he invited some of his creatures to help complete the project. To be his representatives - his image - to the rest of Creation. And have we ever dropped the ball.

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