This Tuesday we are gathering to discuss Genesis 1:26-2:4 comprising the remainder of the Sixth Day and the Seventh Day of Creation. The Sixth Day gives us the most profound statement in all Scripture: “God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” You are created in the image of God. All people are created in the Image of God. But what does this mean? Amazon.com lists more than 9,000 items on the topic “Image of God” and we could spend the remainder of the year on this question and its implication.
GOD’S IMAGE IN US:
At its most basic, the Image of God is that which humanity shares with the Divine that other parts of creation do not. When we think about what it means that we are created in the Image of God, think about that which separates us from the animals, for there we will find this Image. The Image is composed of intelligence and thought, wisdom and reasoning, love and friendship, immortality and transcendence, and recognizes and shares in the Good and the Beautiful. St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) writes that “You alone have been made in the image of the Reality that transcends all understanding, the likeness of imperishable beauty, the imprint of true divinity, the recipient of supreme blessedness, the seal of the true light.” (The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p.79) Origen of Alexandria (184-253) writes that “’the Image of God is our internal humanity – invisible, incorporeal, incorrupt, and immortal.” (Spirit & Fire, p.55). Attached HERE is a discussion of the Image of God in the writing so St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. If you have time, please read through these excepts.
GOD’S IMAGE IN OTHERS:
Genesis is clear, that ALL of humanity is created in the Image of God. In other ancient near eastern religions, only the monarch was created in the god’s image. In ancient Mesopotamia, one of the royal titles was that the “king, my lord, is the very image of Bel/Marduk/Shamash/etc.” In Egypt, the name Tutankhamen means “the living image of the god Anun” and the name Tutmose means “in the likeness of Ra.” Kings were the living images of the gods, other were not. When Genesis states that humanity is the image of God, it democratizes human divinity. Neither the King, nor the socio-economic elites, nor the ruling or conquering tribe has the exclusive right to be seen as God’s image-bearer and be entitled to the privileges of being that image-bearer. Rather, all people – regardless of station or status or tribe – bear this same image and the inherent dignity that arise therefrom.
From this teaching that everyone bears the Image of God, a secondary question arises as to what does it mean that every other human being is an image-bearer. Every single human being, regardless of any individual characteristic, demographic, status, nationality, or behavior bears the Image of God. When we love one another, we love God. 1 John 4. When we care for another, particularly those who cannot do for themselves, we care for God. Matt. 25:21-46. But the understanding that all human beings bear the Image of God most specifically impacts our use of violence. God tells Noah that: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Genesis 9:6. To kill another human being is to commit Deicide. When we kill another human being in any circumstance, we kill God.
The recognition that all other human beings are also divine image-bearers, should necessarily raise some hard questions for us both personally and in society. We have an obligation to conduct ourselves towards others in recognition of God’s image. This obligation must extend even when we are harmed or threatened with harm. I remember twenty years ago when the former Archbishop of Uganda spoke at Trinity. He told the story of a very wealthy man who lived in an armed compound who converted to the Christianity. One of the conditions that the Archbishop placed upon the convert was that he had to get rid of his armed guards because no Christian could take the life of another image-bearer over the possession of property.
Another question is whether this recognition that all other people also carry the Image of God extends to the political and public policy arena. If in Christ there are neither Greeks nor Jews (Gal. 3:28), does this have anything to say about immigration policy? Can the killing of image-bearers in war be justified or not? Two years ago, the Roman Catholic Church changed its catechism to hold that capital punishment is never permissible because even the worst criminals bear God’s Image. Particularly in this season of heightened political policy awareness, think about those polices through the teaching of Genesis 1:27.
It is right for humanity to call upon you, since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God’s image, we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth. Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.
Cleanthes’, Hymn to Zeus (3d c. BC).