Like Button

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Image of God

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen 1:27).
One of the fundamental building blocks upon which we base the whole concept of the value of the human being is this premise. Man was created in the image of God. It is the God-given reason for the death penalty. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Gen 9:5). There are some who have raised the question, "Are we still 'the image of God'?" The question is rooted in the fact that Natural Man is fallen, sinful at his core. How is that "the image of God"?

The question of whether or not we are still "the image of God" is easy to answer. While it is clear that God made us in His image before the Fall, the reference to capital punishment in Genesis 9 is after the Fall. Paul also references the fact that we are the image of God in 1 Cor 11 when he writes, "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God" (1 Cor 11:7). Since both of these references are after the Fall, it is clearly true that humans are still "the image of God". But ... how so?

It would be a mistake to assume that we are "the image of God" in the sense that we have two arms, two legs, a head, feet ... the form that God has. "God is Spirit," we are told. Spirit doesn't have physical form. And while there are biblical references to God's "body parts" ("mouth", "eyes", "hands", "feet", etc.), these are simply anthropomorphic, a way of presenting a Being who is outside our physical world to those of us whose only point of reference is our physical world. No, it's not that we are physically like God. That idea of "image" is too shallow.

Others have offered other ways in which we are "in the image of God". One is that, unlike idols, we're living beings. That's fine, I suppose, except that none of the plants or animals were created in the image of God, and they are living, so that doesn't seem to work very well. Some have argued that it's our capacity for reasoning and art that is "godlike". But if you've ever seen some of the interesting studies done on animal intelligence, you might question that. Crows, they say, have nearly "human-like intelligence", using tools, communicating with each other, and the like. Watch a video on the ingenious squirrel who can manage some extremely complicated tasks to get to food, and you will begin to question the suggestion that only humans have the capacity to reason. Or how about the apes who have been taught to communicate with sign language? Definitely some intelligence there. Beyond that Solomon suggests that the spirit of Man is eternal, but the spirit of beasts is temporal (Eccl 3:21). So it is not in the commonality with animals that "the image of God" resides. It is in the differences. Do animals, for instance, have morals? That's hard to say. They may do some things that imitate morality, but is it because "this is moral and that is not" or is it because "this works and that doesn't"? It is, in fact, this question among humans that causes a problem with the concept of morality. If there is no absolute morality, then we're simply operating on pragmatics. Christians, of course, would argue that this isn't the case. Thus, genuine morality and its consequent liability (you can be judged for your failure to comply) seems to be a human characteristic shared with God alone.

One primary area in which we are in the image of God is in His Trinitarian nature. In the Godhead there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Son is "God Incarnate", the embodiment of God. But God is not a body. So we have the Holy Spirit, the mind, will, and emotions of God. That would be His "soul", the inner self. But God has a third entity, the Father. The Father is Spirit. He is, then, the spirit of God, that innermost being, the prime essence. In a similar way, the Bible describes us as physical beings ("body") with a soul and a spirit. Many times soul and spirit are intertwined, indistinguishable, and interchangeable. However, there are references to these two aspects of human beings that provide a distinction. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23). That makes them distinct. The author of Hebrews says of the Word of God that it "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit" (Heb 4:12). Thus, there is a distinction between the two, even if it is vague to us and hard to determine (because apparently the division requires a really sharp "sword"). Therefore, like God, we are a "trinity".

There are other, smaller ways in which we are in the image of God. We have the capacity for good or evil. We have the capacity to create in ways that exceed the animal kingdom. We also have a level of dominion that is provided by God. Most importantly, while creation in general expresses the glory of God, it is our task and to our benefit to reflect as clearly and completely the glory of God to a degree that general creation cannot. Marring that image is a mistake. Living as a shining reflection of the character of God is our highest calling and greatest joy. Further, since we are in the image of God, what does that say regarding the value of human life? And what are the ramifications for disregarding that image? And how does that concept transmit to other images God has created regarding Himself and our relationship to Him (such as marriage)? Some of these are really large questions.


David said...

I've always seen the trichotomous view as an accurate reflection of our being in the image of God, and then I heard about the dichotomous view. And while I understand their arguments about soul and spirit being interchangeable in Scripture, and can't get away from those passages that seem to give a distinction between the two, and ultimately the dichotomous view adds nothing to us being in the image of God. I have my ideas about the correlations between our 3 parts and God's 3 parts, but this is about the image of God, not the defense of trichotomy.

Stan said...

Yes, I've heard some teachers I really respect argue vehemently against the trichotomous view. I still can't get past the divisions between soul and spirit that are listed in Scripture.

But, if this is about the image of God (and it is), wouldn't your "ideas about the correlations" be pertinent?

David said...

Well, I see the Father as the soul, that part that is what truly is "us". That part that makes all the decisions, our will, our thoughts. Also, it is immaterial. The Holy Spirit is the part that communicates between God and Man, and to his very soul. It is that part in us that is dead and needs to be revived. It too is immaterial, which is why it is so easily linked with the soul. And Christ is the body, that part by which we communicate with one another, which allows us to perceive one another, to experience the world around us. I think the body is actually probably the hardest part to connect to the Trinity, seeing as our bodies are temporal, and Christ is immortal. But that kind of gets lost in the wash of God's eternality. I mentioned my idea of the correlation between our 3 parts and the Trinity, and it was pointed out that Christ didn't always have a body. I thought on that later, and it seemed they had forgotten about the Christophonies, those times God appeared to men. To me, that would be the part of God that allows us to perceive Him. How that works in the eternality of the Trinity is beyond me, but it makes sense in terms of us being in the image of God.

Stan said...

See? That relates to the topic.

Okay, the reason I place the Holy Spirit in the role of the soul is because the soul is the place where we find the mind, the will, the emotions. We read about the Spirit being "the mind of Christ", about grieving the Spirit, and the like. The Spirit is the one that leads us into all truth. We "have the Spirit" and we "have the mind of Christ" in the Spirit. The innermost component of the human being is the spirit. That's the ultimate essence. The soul is more of the personality. So I see the Holy Spirit more related to the soul and God the Father more related to the spirit. But, hey, that's just me.

In fact, just at it is difficult to actually divide out Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it is difficult to distinguish between body, soul, and spirit. So the fact that it's not quite clear seems to be okay to me.