What does image of God mean?
Well, I’m really glad you asked!
The image of God or Imago Dei references how you and I were created.
Let me rewind to Genesis 1.
Back in the beginning, when God was creating the earth and everything in it, something unique happened towards the end of the first chapter.
We see God creating the heavens and earth (vs. 1); the sky, land and water (vs. 6-10); plants and trees (vs. 11-12); even the fish, birds and other animals (vs. 20-25). But, none of creation up to this point involves Imago Dei.
It’s not until we get to Genesis 1:27,
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them”
And there it is, the first time we see it.
When God created male and female, it was Imago Dei.
Up to this point, we see the creation story unfold with “Let there be”. For example, ‘let there be light’ or ‘let the earth bring fourth living creatures’. But then God breaks the rhythm of the original Hebrew to provide an emphasis on the creation of mankind with “Let us make.”
How cool is that? That even the language used for the creation of Adam and Eve was unique to only them.
So, why is the Imago Dei so important?
This is important because Imago Dei is completely unique to mankind and nothing else is created this way. We are set apart because the Triune God created each one of us in His image, each having the thumbprint of God stamped on us.
When looking at the original text talking about being created in the ‘image of God’, the Hebrew translation for ‘image’ is tselem which means ‘copy’. This is meaningful because it gives us an example of our role on earth.
Now, I want to be clear, being a 'copy' of God doesn't mean we are equal to God or some how 'little gods', rather we are like copies from a copy machine, full of imperfections and blemishes caused by sin.
Back in the day kings would place an image or idol of themselves on their land in order to claim sovereignty over the area and people.
Similarly, God created man in His image to be a copy or representative of himself. But, more impressive than an image made of metal or wood, God created an image of himself that was alive. By being living and breathing image bearers, we operate as unique representatives of God.
HOW WE RELATE
With this lens, we enter into the reality of being made in the image of God. Being an image bearer sets us apart as not only our creation but also in our purpose.
This is seen in three different roles or relationships.
First, we have our relationship with God. Not only did God create us, but through the Gospel, He pursues us. God seeks us out for relationship and gives us the privilege of having open communication with Him. This type of relationship doesn’t exist with any other created thing. We were specifically created to have a relationship with God. Since Adam and Eve kinda messed that up for us in Genesis 3, God gave us another avenue for relationship through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God didn’t give access to himself to animals. In other words, Jesus didn’t put on flesh to seek and save the chihuahuas! Our relationship with God is completely unique to us.
The second type of relationship that is unique to humans is our relationship with nature. When God created Adam, He gave him dominion over all the living things (vs. 28). Humans were given the unique responsibility and privilege to care for the earth and its living creatures. In God’s perfect created order, we are to care for the earth until Jesus returns. We are caretakers and protectors over the land, water and animals. This is the unique responsibility given to the image bearers of God. Just as God protects and cares for His creation on a universal scale, we copy that by the way we care for the world around us.
Lastly, we are unique in the way we have relationships with other humans. Just as we are to mirror God in the way we tend to the world around us, we are to also mirror God in the way we treat other people around us.
This is seen in Genesis 9:6,
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.”
Here, we see the elevated value of a human life. If a man kills another man, because we are made in the image of God, the consequence of the sin is major. That same weight is not put on any other created thing. God did not give a penalty to an animal for killing another animal. The honoring and protecting of human life is strictly for humans.
The value of human life is greater than the value of any other living thing. This doesn’t mean living things do not have value, because, remember, we are called to protect living things. However, it does mean that being created in the Imago Dei, we have a significantly higher value than a plant or horse.
HOW WE LIVE
So, how should this effect the way we live?
Well, let’s look at Ephesians 5:11
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
Wherever you are in life, you can choose not to take part of darkness. To expose the darkness of sin and invite people to walk in the light. Even when it feels awkward or uncomfortable, stand up to darkness and expose it.
As we begin to understand Imago Dei, we can expose the very things that threaten it. We begin to dismantle racism, sexism or anything that devalues another human. Matt Chandler explains,
“Because every human being is created in the image of God, the Christian must labor to uphold the dignity of others and take no part in practices that abuse and exploit them.”
Our responsibility as image bearers, is not to use, abuse and devour others but to protect and have compassion towards image bearers. As the Church, we have the unique privilege not only to protect others, but to offer hope to the hopeless. So, let’s lead the way. We are the salt and light that stands against societal views and historic norms for the sake of and caring for the Imago Dei.
As representatives of God, our treatment of other image bearers is clear.
- With kindness and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32)
- Like we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31)
- Love one another like Jesus loves us (John 15:12)
- Outdoing one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
- Look to others needs before your own (Phil. 2:4)
- Live in peace (Romans 12:18)
- Walk in humility (Phil 2:3)
- Love not in just word but in deed (1 John 3:18)
Now, this is just a fraction of the verses showing us how to treat others. But just these few verses is a lot and, let’s be real, most of the time we don’t make it past the first one.
The Imago Dei is affirmed in every human. Every person is created equal in dignity and value. Someone's background or lifestyle choices do not determine their value. Even another person doesn’t have the power to determine someones dignity. God does and He already made it clear in Genesis 1 that we are all created in His image.
So, what do we do when we see injustice done towards an image bearer?
- We should mourn. We have to acknowledge that we are broken about the sin committed towards an image bearer of God.
- We should remember and remind others that injustice is not of Christ. Just as Jesus came to serve others, we too must remain humble in our pursuit of loving our neighbor. We must be a voice for the voiceless and stand for truth.
- We should remember that our suffering is seen by God and His heart breaks at the sight of sin. God is in control and He has a plan for every victory and every heartbreak. He will never leave us or forsake us.
- We should seek God in prayer. Pray that God will give you wisdom in facing injustice. Pray that God will heal our land and comfort those affected. Pray that God will use you in being an advocate for change.
- We should pursue education towards injustice, starting with understanding how God has commanded us to live a life of love, followed by educating ourselves with authentic conversations and committing to listening to those who are hurting.
When we begin to live like Jesus, we begin to live out what it means to truly be made in the image of God. Knowing that we have the unique responsibility to stand for truth, walk in love and pursue others in peace.
Understanding why Imago Dei matters shapes the way we see the world around us. It shapes the way we embrace and live out issues of human value and dignity; ethics; relationships and justice. We should mourn what sin has done to us. How sin has disfigured our view of ourselves and others. We can no longer dismiss or justify when people take it upon themselves to abuse, misuse, and dismiss other image bearers.
Together, we must pursue and proclaim the value of every person. To look at a person’s soul and need for Jesus before we ever see the color of their skin or amount of money in their bank account. We must appreciate the uniqueness of every person created.
Together, we must look to Jesus, our hope in a hopeless world & our light in the darkness.
by Emily LaGrone