Answer by Diane Eager and John Mackay
This question is a reference to Genesis 1: 26-27, which says: And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’
So what is the image of God? Let’s start with the word image. Think of a person’s reflection in a mirror or their photo. When you speak to your reflection in a mirror – your image moves its lips but no sound comes out. Any image is like the object it reflects but it is always less than the original object. Now consider some of the characteristics shared by God and man, seen in the verses from Genesis quoted above. “God said …” i.e. God spoke. This is reiterated in the Gospel of John, which begins “In the beginning was the Word”. Human beings speak and write with words because we are a reflection of the God speaks and writes with words. That’s why you have never heard this from a monkey. They were not made in God’s likeness. Human language is very different to animal communication. Recent research has confirmed that our brains are hard wired for language, and babies will acquire whatever language they are exposed to. But when God spoke light appeared, and life was made. When we speak usually nothing much happens. An image is like the object it reflects but it is always less than the original object.
“Let us …” God is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one God, and three persons perfect community. A human being is a three-fold being, consisting of body, soul and spirit (See I Thessalonians 5:23). Furthermore, people are meant to live in relationship with others. The need for companionship is as essential a need as food, clothing and shelter.
“Let us make man …” Since God is the Creator, one quintessential attribute of man is that we are creative. We find fulfilment in making things, even when we don’t need them for a purely survival reason. This creative nature enables us to investigate and use the resources of the earth, and is the basis for science, agriculture, arts, crafts, technology and civilisation.
Man ‘made in the image of God’ is what sets us apart from the all other living things. Man alone has this characteristic, even though our bodies may share some physical/chemical characteristics with God made creatures that live on the same planet. This teaching is vital to the legal and moral status of man. After the Flood Noah was told he could kill and eat animals, but not other human beings, because man alone was made in the image of God. Our entire dominion over the plants and animals depends on this truth.
But there is one crucial property of images: they never make themselves, and therefore, they are never autonomous. An image has its origin, and derives purpose, only from its source. Human beings were created to be in relationship with their Image making Creator. Sadly this relationship was broken when the first human beings rebelled against their Creator, and our image was defaced by sin. We have all inherited this broken image in our rebellious nature. The good news is Jesus Christ, who is God the Creator, became a man lived and died to pay the penalty for man’s rebellion, and all those who put their faith in Him have that relationship repaired, and the God-likeness of the real image restored.
Being made in the image of God is a key difference in the beliefs of Islam and those of Christianity and Judaism. Islam lacks any concept of man made in the image of God, and regards this as blasphemy. The status of human beings is an important part of the creation/evolution debate. According to evolution humans are just animals. For this reason Biblical creation is vital issue for today.
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