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. – Genesis 1:26-27
The Imago Dei or the image of God has been discussed at length for a long, long time. Throughout history, some have assumed that the image of God refers to intelligence and the ability to discern between moral choices. Others have thought it’s more about the soul or spirit of a human. I believe that the image is something functional (something we do) and ontological (something we have). Let’s explore.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Yahweh is that He wants to be known, and He wants to know His creation as well. This is somewhat bizarre because most gods in the ancient world weren’t really concerned with the affairs of humanity unless thought they could get something out of them. Yahweh, on the other hand, is entirely driven by love, order, shalom and holiness. So what does this mean for the Imago Dei?
In the ancient world, kings were known to be the earthly representatives of their god. In Egypt, for example, the pharaoh was thought to be the incarnation and representation of whatever major or popular god that was in at the time. Furthermore, these representative kings were to rule over their nation as though the god itself was ruling, thus displaying all of the god’s attributes and character. Other examples in the ancient world also show how the representatives of the gods also played a mediatory role; a sort of middle man between the god and the nation. In Genesis 1-2, there is a similar message. Humanity (both male and female) are created and endowed with something of the Creator God. They intrinsically possess the divine (ontology) as they were made to image or display their Creator to the rest of creation (function). According to the passage, humanity was to image Yahweh by “having 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” (Genesis 1:26) and to work and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). What does this mean for us then?
In Genesis 3, classically entitled as the Fall, humanity meets a weird talking serpent (sin incarnate), they’re tempted, they take from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They are then exiled from the Garden because they failed in their vocation to be keepers of Eden and to rule over creation. Instead of ruling over the serpent (sin), they are ruled by it. Instead of protecting Eden (Yahweh’s dwelling space), they let chaos and sin come in and take over. So when someone does terrible at their job, they’re fired. So were Adam and Eve.
Genesis 1-3 is unique. There are several ways one could interpret and understand the story. One way I think we should understand Genesis 1-3 is that it’s the story of all of humanity. God has tasked all of us (Christian or not) with a divinely appointed job to lovingly rule over creation, to work it and to keep it so that God can live among us. From before even the very beginning, God’s intention for His creation and humanity especially was that He would dwell and live in loving harmony with them. This is where the Imago Dei kicks in. Every single one of us has been created to reflect and show God’s very being by doing the above tasks. Reflecting or imaging is inescapable for us, it’s a part of our nature. Now, however, we image and reflect the other gods (idols) we worship, namely death and chaos. Reflect on this quote by one of my favourite scholars G. K. Beale:
“People will always reflect something, whether it be God’s character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves.”
Now consider this passage from Psalm 115:4-8:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
If there’s one thing humanity loves more then themselves its flat out drama (chaos). We’re confusing little things. One the one hand we protest and petition for peace on earth, we desire to see the end of famine and disease, we boil and rage at corruption in government, and we weep and wail over death and genocide. Yet we send people into war (sometimes a necessary evil). We spend $50 on a shirt made in Taiwanese sweatshops. We hate sexual abuse and fight against rape culture, yet we watch porn and get excited over shows like Game of Thrones that perpetuate that culture. We “know” what’s wrong and what’s right, yet we’re in a constant struggle to live consistently. You could say that we “suppress the truth in our unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). All the technology and scientific advancements in the world won’t give us what we need, a new heart, with new desires, and the ability to live consistently (Ezekiel 36:26). Once, that’s solved, then we can once again image and reflect God who is life and love rather than the gods of death and chaos. How do we obtain new hearts?
Great question. Ezekiel 36:26 (cf: Eze 11:19-20; 18:31; Ps 51:10; Jn 3:3; 2 Cor 3:3), is something God wants to do to everyone in Christ to restore the Imago Dei and have them return (to greater heights) to their intended role in the cosmos. Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead as a perfect human being, as our representative (Rom 5:12-14), so that by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8-9) we can be united to this new and perfect human (1 Cor 15:22) by the Holy Spirit (Jhn 3:5-6). When we’re united, we’re then washed clean and made pure (1 Cor 6:11) – we’re made genuinely human in the Messiah Jesus. Now we’re able to truly love, rule, reflect and keep as God created us to be.