Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The image of God

Genesis 1:26-31

Whole books could be written on this passage alone. There is so much packed into these few verses! What does it mean that humans are created in the image of God? What does it mean that we are created male and female in that image? What does it mean for us to exercise dominion, to rule over the rest of creation? The questions go on and on.

Michelangelo portrayed God in the image of man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That is, he extrapolated from human form and chose to portray God as a bearded old man, holding out his finger to create Adam. Visually, the image is stunning. Taken literally, it leaves something to be desired. In the 1970's, on the cover of his album "Aqualung," Jethro Tull stated that "Man created God in his own image ..." This is a danger we must always be aware of. We picture God as we are. If I am petty and fearful, I picture God this way. If I keep score, guess what my God does? If I am judgmental, or play favorites, or if I am unfair, guess what? We limit God by perceiving him through our own image.

So how do we get this business of being created in the image of God in proper perspective? Elsewhere the Bible makes pretty clear that being made in the image of God is not about noses, fingers, eyebrows, or any other physical feature. "God is Spirit," Jesus said in John 4. But there is something about God that we imitate, an image that we bear that reflects the Creator.

The best stab I can make toward defining this is that we are designed for relationships. It becomes clearer and clearer as you wade through the Bible that God is all about relationships. He starts them, refines them, recasts and revises and reforms them, but God is all about relationships. Over and over again we see God making covenants to try to define relationships. Abraham and Sarah. Jacob. Moses. David. Jesus brought relationships into sharp focus. "I no longer call you servants, but friends," he told his disciples. Even his opening line, "Come, follow me," was an invitation to relationship.

Think of how you became the person you are today. Without question, your strengths and your character were formed in the forge of relationships. Who was a role model, a hero, for you? Who wounded you so deeply you have never recovered? Who limps along with you from day to day, sharing the joys and sorrows of your life? We are relational beings. None of us can live without relationships, not even the most solitary hermit. We are constantly interacting and influencing those around us. If you doubt this, take a look at the boom in the last few years of social media -- the second great wave of the Internet is all about relationships.

It is in relationships we find our deepest joys, our most wrenching grief, our most twisted wrongs. It is in relationships that we experience the fullest expression of our created potential. We cannot escape this. Relationships cripple us and redeem us. As much as we would sometimes like to live totally independent, we cannot -- we must not -- do so. We are created for relationships.

This is no accident. This is God's design in creation. We need to live in community. We need to depend on people, and have them rely on us. Trust. Compassion. Humor. Interdependence. Comfort. Challenge. All of these words are lived out in relationships.

Shortly we will see that it is in our relationships, too, that we experience our greatest brokenness. But for the moment, suffice it to say that God has created us in his image, meaning that we are created for relationships. This is where our lives will be shaped, our characters formed. If we are to find our place in creation, it will depend on the recognition that God has created us for relationship with himself, with other humans, and with the rest of creation. In that web of intricately interconnected ties we find ourselves and learn who we are.


  1. I like what you have said, but my mind keeps thinking that the idea of "in His image" must be bigger than relationships.

    Wouldn't the fruits of the Spirit come into play? Love, Joy, Peace, etc. Goodness? Free will? Our emotions? Maleness and Femaleness?

    Certainly many of the above (but not all) can be tied to relationships, but it still seems like a bigger concept....

    I'll keep pondering....

  2. After reviewing the Sociology session of the "Truth Project" I am now better able to communicate my concern here. Certainly relationships is the major factor, what I'd call the function of being created in God's image. But there is also the structural elements - the nature of God - that exist in our image. The triune nature of God, our body, soul, and spirit. So much of God's creation mirrors (emulates) his nature. Taking simply the triune nature, we have:
    Three parts to an atom;
    Three primary colors;
    Three states of matter;
    Three parts to our being;
    Three physical dimensions (H,L,W);

    What an incredible creation. It is inspiring to be created in God's image at multiple levels.