In God's image
January 25, 2019
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NIV).
What does it mean to be created in God’s image? I remember as a kid being given the Sunday school answer that we possess, in a small way, the attributes of God – our creativity, our ability to love, our freedom. However, I’ve come to realize that this is only a small part of the picture. And a rather egocentric part of the picture at that.
In the ancient world, before the advent of instant global communication, most common people in a kingdom of any significant size would never see their ruler. They’d know that somewhere way out yonder a man (or woman) ruled over them, but that ruler could easily seem like more of an impersonal force than an actual person. In order to put a particular face on their authority, rulers would commission statues and paintings to be displayed in their far-flung territories. They would also have their faces stamped on the coins in circulation. This display of their images would bring a certain new reality to their reigns.
Additionally, a quick word search of the Old Testament shows another common usage for the concept of “image of God.” Idols are often referred to as “images of gods.” To be clear, some idolatrous peoples worshiped the actual idol itself. However, many saw the idols as images of their actual gods who controlled the world around them. The idol was something they could see, touch and interact with. The image gave concrete presence to an unseen being.
You see, God didn’t create us “in the image of God” for our own enjoyment. As bearers of God’s image, we were God’s intended representatives of the God of the universe here on Planet Earth. The God of the universe is not represented by objects of metal, wood or stone, but by living, breathing, free agents who care for God’s creation. Verse 28 makes this intention clear:
“God blessed them and said to them, “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” (Genesis 1:28 NIV).
We were created to reign on God’s behalf. Like an ancient ruler, God intended to convey a particular identity by placing images, living images to point to the character of the true God of the universe. Unfortunately, humanity chose to go our own way and follow the selfish path of sin. Rather than live as God’s images, Adam and Eve desired to become “like God.” Rather than representing God’s rule, they hoped to rule on their own. They hoped to become masters of their own destinies. In this act of self-magnification, the image of God was broken.
Later, God would call out an entire nation to represent God’s reign on earth. But, like Adam and Eve, Israel became concerned with their own interests rather than their true purpose of representing God’s character and loving dominion on earth. They turned away from God to chase after idols and the accumulation of wealth and power. Again, the image of God was broken.
In Jesus, we see a radical restoration of the image of God in humanity. Jesus isn’t just a representative of God’s character and reign. Jesus, himself, is God. Jesus perfectly “imaged” God for a lost and dying world. In Jesus, we see that the great, transcendent, true God of the universe is not just a God of great power, but a God of endless, unlimited love, a God who cares especially for the oppressed and the outcast (Luke 4:18-19), a God who chooses servanthood over self-gratification (Phil 2:3-11). In Jesus, the image of God in humanity was restored.
As the Body of Christ, we are the restored image of God in the world. We are called to represent God’s character and loving authority to a lost and dying world. We can easily fall into the same trap that ensnared Adam, Eve and Israel. We can see God’s favor as an opportunity to ensure our own well-being, but, as we’ve seen, this would only again break the image of God. Our salvation, our creation in the image of God, our empowering by God’s Spirit, is a call to live a life in the endlessly loving, self-giving, self-emptying, image of the one true God of the universe.