In a previous post, we learned that our relational tendencies proceed from God being a relational God. In this post, we will consider what it means to be made in the image of God, otherwise known as the Imago Dei. Our key passage is Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Verse 26 is God’s consultation and decision to create man, verse 27 is a short song about the event, and verse 28 is God’s creation work of man. Verse 26 gives us a glimpse into the committee of the Godhead. After creating light, water, thousands of varieties of small and large vegetation, billions of stars and moons and planets, birds and fish, and mammals, he takes a brief respite to council together about the creation of mankind. This pause in the matter-of-fact creation account gives the reader a sense that his next move will be grand and wonderful. How could he possibly top billions of stars? How could he display any more artistic beauty than the colors of a sunset? How could he demonstrate any more wonder than the varieties of animals on this earth?
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Let Us Make Man in Our Image
In the pinnacle of his creation, God chose to embed, or depict, himself. This may seem arrogant to some, but here are two reasons why it is not arrogant:
- Who are you to critique? 🙂 If I was to go through your phone, your facebook account, your computer, your photo albums, and your walls in your house, how many pictures would I find of you?
- He is the supreme beauty. He made this world. He has a right to display himself.
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? My first instinct is to say that we are created in God’s image in the same way that a stick figure is made in our image. Most of us get the idea of what a stick figure is supposed to represent, but it never really does justice to a person, no matter how cute it is.
When the Bible describes God, most authors say something like “such was the appearance of the likeness of the form of God.” There is an indescribable quality to God that makes him difficult to recount. I think the image of God in mankind is like that. It may include morality, or dignity, or the dominion of the earth, or emotions, or self-realization, or rational thinking, or having a soul, but I don’t think it is limited to any of those things.
My Dog Named Chloe
I have a beautiful pure-bread Golden Retriever named Chloe. Chloe is extremely smart, very well-tempered, and in good health. We have bred Chloe several times and sold the puppies to make some part-time income. In one sense, Chloe is worth more to me financially than my son is, because she earns me more money. But does that make Chloe worth more? Obviously not.
Let me take it a step farther: Let’s say I am driving with Chloe in the back seat. We cross over a bridge when I hit a car. Both cars go over the edge and start sinking into the water. Looking over, I see the other car has a middle-aged man who is knocked out and will drown if I don’t help him now. Chloe is also knocked out in the back seat. Which life should I save? Which life is worth more?
Regardless of how much money my dog has made me or how faithful of a companion she has been, a human life is worth more than any dog’s life. We know this. Our intuition tells us that humans have a unique dignity.
When God chose to create man, he paused and consulted within himself about how he could make man special. He chose to create each of us in his image, which gives every human a unique dignity. This is called the Imago Dei.
Broad Implications of the Imago Dei
- Gender Equality – Contrary to common opinion, the doctrine of the Imago Dei actually necessitates gender equality. Rather than evaluating the worth of each gender through strengths and weaknesses, the Imago Dei teaches us that there is a much deeper reality about each gender which guards us against any gender superiority or inferiority. (Genesis 1:27)
- Race Equality – The doctrine of the Imago Dei also demands racial equality. The fact that every human is created in God’s image not only requires that we condemn racism and slavery, but that we also work and sacrifice to abolish racism and slavery.
- Financial Equality – A person’s Imago Dei is what ultimately gives them value. Trillions of dollars cannot add to their dignity as a human, and only having pennies cannot take away from their worth as a human created in the image of God. For this reason, we must be impartial towards the rich and poor in justice and opportunities.
- Health Equality – Many people have looked at a loved one on their death bed and knew that sickness and death were wrong. Unfortunately, this causes some to think that sickness and death causes a human to lose their dignity as a human. The implication is that it would be better to take their loved one’s life before they got too sick. However, humans do not derive their dignity from health. Death and sickness are so very wrong (they are part of the curse of sin), but even through death and sickness, humans retain their dignity because they have the Imago Dei imprinted on their very existence. This forbids any form of euthanasia.
- Age Equality – God creates life at conception. Regardless of dependence level or age, a fetus inherently has the image of God. That image is not bequeathed to them three days after conception, or three months, or six months, or 9 months, or in their first breath, or within 15 minutes of its first breath, or until it is independent enough to survive without the mother. It has the dignity of the Imago Dei, and therefore to take that baby’s life is a terrible sin against a defenseless baby and an atrocious vandalism against God.
Marriage Implications of the Imago Dei
This is a marriage post, right? Understanding the doctrine of the Imago Dei can change your mindset and help your marriage in several ways.
- Beauty – How do you continue to look at your spouse as beautiful, handsome, or dignified? What about on sweatpants days? What about on no-makeup, no-hair-style days? The Imago Dei tells you that your spouse has beauty and dignity as a person regardless of appearance. There is a deeper shine to his/her life than just the physical. As you see and appreciate their dignity and virtue, they become wonderful to you. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and how that eye sees is determined in the heart.
- Fighting Lust – Sexual sin, particularly in pornography, often dehumanizes the person who is object of lust. The Imago Dei in that objectified person is removed and they are reduced to an object of sexual desire. By recognizing the Imago Dei in that person, they are given their dignity back and our lust loses its power. Rather than a person being an object of lust, they are a person in the image of God who should be loved, sympathized with, and pitied.
- Faithfulness – By recognizing the Imago Dei in our spouse, we sense the virtue of maintaining our faithfulness to them instead of being unfaithful.
- Arguments – The first thing that happens in arguments with our spouse is that we forget who they really are. We forget their virtue, their love for us, and the history of our relationship with them. In arguments, we reduce them to an object of frustration. By remembering that they are created in the image of God, we realize that they are worth so much more than petty arguments. We may still need to work things out, compromise, apologize, and forgive, but when they become humans with the Imago Dei, they can no longer be an object for frustration, and they turn into a companion to share life with. (James 4:1-10)
The Gospel and the Imago Dei
Unfortunately, by our sin, we damage the Imago Dei. This insult against God is like cosmic vandalism which incites God’s wrath and punishment. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ absorbs God’s wrath and punishment in his death on the cross. By faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, we can be given a new nature. This new nature causes us to repent of sin and pursue righteousness. As we become more like Jesus Christ, we bear God’s image better (Ephesians 4:24). This will finally be consummated one day in heaven when, “we will be like him, for we shall see him just as he is.” (1 John 3:2)