Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Image of God

Our men's group is going through Multiply in Bible Study. It's a fantastic study and I would highly recommend it as a way to encourage discipleship growth in your church. We recently worked through the chapter on Creation [study guide pdf] and wrestled through what it means to be made in God's image.

Consider Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'"

On page 144, the Multiply book states:
There is something absolutely unique about humanity. On the one hand, we are utterly unlike God because, just like everything else in creation, He made us. But on the other hand, God specifically created us to be like Him. This is impossible to wrap our minds around, but God created us like Him in some respect and then set us in the midst of this world to represent Him!  There is a lot of debate about what exactly the “image of God” is. Everyone seems to agree that being created in God’s image is more than a physical resemblance—He is Spirit, after all (John 4:24). Suggestions as to what God’s image in humanity consists of are varied: our ability to reason, our ability to make moral decisions, our personalities, and our capacity for relationships are all leading views. Others suggest that the image of God relates to the dominion over the rest of creation that God gave to man (this ties Gen. 1:26–27 to Gen. 1:28). Perhaps it is best not to attach the image of God to any one faculty or attribute of humanity. In the New Testament, we are told  that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). It seems that being the “image of God” is about reflecting God in some way. Jesus did this perfectly, but humanity has also been given a responsibility to show God to the world—His handiwork, nature, and attributes are displayed in us in a way that they are not displayed in the rest of the creation. (Of course, this image has been tainted by sin, but that comes later in the story.)
I would agree that it's impossible to precisely determine what being made in God's image means, but I also think it's possible to look at Scripture and understand it at a deeper level than mere speculation.

Look at how Genesis 1:24 describes the creation of the animal kingdom: "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds--livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so." These creatures were created like everything else, by God's word, and they were 'brought forth' from the earth. Beast and bug alike are made of earthly material--entirely terrestrial--nothing more and nothing less.

Genesis 2:7 gives a more detailed account of the creation of man: "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Adam's creation is far more intimate. Yes, he too is made of the stuff of earth like the animals, but life is given him by the breath or the spirit of God. This is the foundational distinctive from which all the attributes of being made in the image of God come. Paired with our physical being is a soul from God that lives beyond the chaotic physics of this world.

From there, attributes of being made in God's image may be discerned. No one truth needs to be the definitive qualification for imaging God. Rather, it's all of these qualities (many of them listed in Multiply) that follow from the endowment of life by the Spirit of God.
  • We have a spirit that will endure through eternity
  • We can be in relationship with God
  • We share in God's communicable attributes
  • We are creative like our Maker
  • We are not bound by instinct--our reasoning and actions are based in morals
  • We [ought to] have dominion over this creation

Surely this list is not exhaustive. The point is to see that in many ways we're like the God who made us. We're corrupted, flawed versions of what that should be, but our hope is that one day we'll be perfected and represent the image of God purely as we dwell with him forever in his new creation. Thanks be to Jesus Christ, the image, the radiance and glory of God, who by his atoning sacrifice on the cross opened the way for us to be restored to this glorified image that Christ holds.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:16-18).