Image of God

Course: A Guide to Christian Theology

Lecture: Image of God


This is the 16th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.

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I. the Trinity is God’s imagery

In considering human beings, we look in Genesis 2:7 where we see that God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life who then became a living soul. So human beings are a single person having two interacting essences, material and immaterial which are indistinguishable in life but divisible in death. My body impacts my spirituality and vice versa. There is a complexity of terms in regards to the human such as heart, soul, mind, blood, conscience, spirit etc. and I think these are seen as spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, vocational, volitional, familial and social all coming together to describe who we are. But there is something more foundational behind them and it goes back to Genesis 1:26 where it says, ‘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.’ Before this, God was saying, ‘let there be’ and now he is saying ‘let us make.’ I believe that the pronoun ‘us’ refers to trinity: father, son and Holy Spirit. These three are internally interrelated, other centered, eternally loving and that is the way we are created to be. They were to create humans and they were to rule. So ‘us’ is going to create a ‘they’. 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.

II. We are the tselem of the Living God

So what does it mean that we are in the image of God? This has represented a large debate throughout history in current theology. In regards to the image of God, is it a way that our characteristics are like God’s characteristics? So where those overlap has to do with the image of God. For example, humans have a volitional will and God has a volitional will so therefore, the will is the part of the image of God. Humans have a body but God does not have a body so the argument is that the body is not part of the image of God. This is one way to approach the definition of the image of God. The image of God, here, comes in a different way because it says, ‘let us make man’ in our image. It doesn’t say let us make man’s soul or man’s spirit or part of man but let us make ‘man’ in our image. The Hebrew word for image is tselem and we see this word also being used in Daniel 3:1 where Nebuchadnezzar made an ‘image’ of gold. Here the image turns out to be a statue and everyone is commanded to bow down before it but of course Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuses and are known into the fiery furnish. I think what they are worshipping is the god behind that image. This tselem make visible the invisible god, so it is something that represents. I think this is what God is saying in Genesis 1:26; we are the tselem of the living God, the true God that created heaven and earth. And our role as that image is made visible in concrete ways. God’s command to them is to subdue this place. Can the immaterial part of the person create fruit and multiple? No. When he says that man is the image, I don’t think he is just referring to his spirit because it is a making visible thing. Can I make God visible with my immaterial self? No. It is a whole person thing in making visible.

A. We Make Visible

In Colossians 1:15, ‘who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.’ So Jesus comes to reveal the Father so that is what the image does, to make visible, concretely visible and we have physical beings to do that. So this image is a whole person thing to make visible. God doesn’t have a body; Jesus has a body but God doesn’t. But it is not being God, and it is unlike animals; thus I am making God visible with my life and with my efforts. Males and female are the images of God. This is part of the reason why we are not to kill another person. In James 3, with our tongues we can curse humans who are made in the likeness of God. Are some people more of an image of God than others? Let’s look at 2nd Corinthians 3, ‘we who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his image.’ So we are being transformed into his image. Sound to me that some people are more of his image than others. Colossians 3:10, ‘and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.’ We are being renewed in the knowledge after the image of God.’ There is a renewal going on toward image. So the image is a goal in which we are moving. So I would like to think that all people are imaged in a baseline sense and have a dignity that must be respected. All people are made in the image of God with a divine given dignity, but some people do a better job at making God visible than others. That is the transformation that a person goes through. So there are different levels to the image of God.

B. Test of a Godly Person

So my definition of image represents an amazing ability which comes out of our personhood and the awesome responsibility. So there is an ability and responsibility to make visible the invisible characteristics of our creator and redeemer. So we as humans have this responsibility to represent God and work for him and with him in order to make his character visible in our character and in our work. And we have ability as individual people along with a responsibility to do that. That is the heart and image of God. This is why in the Old Testament; the test of a Godly person is how you treat people, especially those who are widows, orphans, strangers and the poor along with the elderly, the handicap, etc. These people are the images of God, human characters with dignity and we need to respect and in cooperate that into our lives. We need to love our enemies. Why, because they are like the image of God.

C. We Are Blessed and Made to Create Shalom

In verse 28, ‘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.’ So there is an idea of working here. Adam and Eve were to work in the garden and take care of it. We are not sure what some of the terms mean here. So work is there from the very beginning as human beings are created to work from the beginning. So what is the nature of this? As I see it, Eden was built as a garden and sanctuary and humans work and keep this place in partnership with God. We are working together with him. In other cosmologies humans are just slaves of God to do his work; a very different picture. Everybody assumes that work is what you do from 9am to 5pm, five days a week to earn money and to pay the bills. Afterwards, you can do what you want to do and this is what life is all about for most people. I think this is a wrong picture of work. Work should be the gracious expression of the creative energy of the Lord in service to others to create shalom. God has given us energy by his grace and we use that energy in a creative way for peace where all relationships are ordered and full of delight as God ordained it to be. So our work is creating shalom. There is no fundamental difference in the quality between a preacher and a janitor. There are differences but in terms of creating shalom, both of them are working to create shalom. This is an expression of God’s calling and vocation in our lives.

So who creates shalom? Everyone: elders, lay people and those who have been saved. Luther’s example is the person who makes shoes. Which is more powerful, a priest or a shoemaker? In Luther’s argument, they are both valuable. Shoes are necessary to walk around in; try not using them and you will hurt your feet. All gifts are important as an expression of God’s calling in life. So if work is a gracious expression of God’s creative energy then I should be looking at place where I can express God’s creative energy in whatever I’m doing. So I would encourage that work is Godly and there is no difference between ministry and secular work.