Imago Dei

The Spitting Image of God

by COLIN MACINTYRE

The answer begins here:

And God said, Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway… (Genesis 1:26)

Imago Dei is a Latin term meaning the image of God. Whether realized or not, every human attempt at truth, freedom, and advancement owes itself to this singular doctrine. It has been called by many names — the divine spark; eternity in our hearts; the indomitable human spirit; the sovereignty of man; our universal and inalienable rights — but all point to the same thing:

There is something divine about man.

This is by no means a natural socio-cultural development, nor is it a mere product of The Enlightenment (as some revisionists claim) confusing root with fruit. No, the roots of this truth run ancient and deep. And its salient points are numerous.

1 Imago Dei is Unbroken by Adam

Whoever spills human blood,
by others must his blood be spilled;
for in God’s image God made mankind.
(Genesis 9:6)

In the New Testament, James, no doubt heeding Jesus’ teaching that murder begins in the heart and proceeds to the tongue, gives a similar warning:

With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been born according to God’s likeness. (James 3:9)

(For whatever reason, celestial beings like angels do not possess the image of God. Neither do the beasts.)

God’s warning to Noah reinforces Genesis 1:26, where it was decreed that man should be filled with God’s image and likeness and enjoy dominion over his created universe. For the same thought to be present eight chapters later meant that, while Adam’s great error certainly impaired the human race, it in no way nullified the divine stamp upon our lives. That is to say, our

  • free will,
  • capacity for reason,
  • inherent worth,
  • relational complexity,
  • ruler function, and
  • ability to dream

remained intact. Too intact, as it turns out. For inasmuch as freedom remains a component in the “master control system” of the universe, the fact that these God-like strands continued in our DNA enabled the very possibility of a corrupted cosmos.

2 What God “Gets” Out of You

And so there are times when one wonders, what could God possibly get out of relationship with human beings? One answer is that our creation was the result of the overflow of divine love. That we are a gift back to himself. Well, saith the cynical soul, surely it must be the kind of gift where it’s the thought that counts.

Though I asked this myself, I now believe it is borne out of a misconstruing of relationship. Since the beginning — I mean when all of Existence was Three-in-One — the marrow of relationship was never transactional, but unconditional. In that sense we are a gift, a sheer one, not only to him, but to all of creation.

But unconditional does not mean unrewarding. God puts quality in us, and then looks for it. Any proper artist knows that being the creator does nothing to lessen the enjoyment of the created. Especially when the creature bears so much resemblance in nature and capacity. Love begets freedom, and freedom begets potential. In this sense, relationship with you could never get old.

3 The Devil is No Creator

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness — the one who does not love his fellow Christian — is not of God. (1 John 3:10)

It is well argued that this verse is speaking of believers (which rather dramatically raises its impact), and that the often-related John 8:44 is instead directed to stubborn proponents of a corrupted Old Covenant system.

But let us, for argument’s sake, take one phrase outside of its immediate context. “Children of the devil” should not be misunderstood.

The fact remains that the enemy has no creative capacity whatsoever, much less fundamentals for child-bearing. He is a creature consisting entirely of lack. Thus, to be his “child” is not to say of his substance. Rather, imitation and example under his influence are more than enough for a kind of common-law relationship to take place.

In other words, it was the mind, will and direction of man, not his origin that was grossly altered by the Incident in the Garden. This is seen in (at least) the genealogical record found in Luke 3:

the son of Seth,
the son of Adam,
the son of God.

4 Heaven Has Struck Back

For the weapons of our campaign are not fleshly, and yet are (through God) powerful enough to overthrow fortresses. We are overthrowing arguments and every high rampart reared against the knowledge of God, and taking every concept captive for subjection to the Anointed. (2 Cor. 10:4–5)

Christ’s redemption then, needed to address these anomalies plaguing God’s creations.

Deceptions of the mind, according to Paul, are overthrown by being captivated by Christ.

The corrupted will is answered by Christ’s invitation to consume and abide in (soak or draw nutrients from) him.

“My food,” Jesus said to them, “is that I do the will of the one who sent me and finish his work.”

As for our wayward direction, once one understands that, to the Hebrew mind, righteousness was conceptually a path, the true application of Christ’s imputed righteousness (and how Abraham’s came about) becomes clearer.*

These and more are the nuts and bolts of regeneration (1 Pet. 1:3), which is the new creation (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17), meaning that we are

5 In Him, Of Him, His Are Value Statements

For in him we live and move and are, as indeed some of the poets among you have said: “For we too are his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)

This is echoed in Jesus’ trifecta of lost-and-found parables in Luke 15. For when the father embraced his lost son, kissed him, and gave him his robe, ring, and sandals we saw a boy who, like the sheep and coin, retained his father’s value, no matter how lost or hidden.

6 Christ the Mirror

Michael Tejada writes that from a spiritual standpoint, the image of God in mankind was marred in the beginning through disobedience. Similarly, the true image of God, Christ Jesus, in his obedience even to death on a cross, was physically marred beyond recognition. In forgiving mankind, who no longer resembled their divine origins, Christ no longer even looked like a man.

Yet, by his wounds, we were healed. We become partakers — sharers — in the divine nature by virtue of his path. The twist, of course, is that Jesus said he was the path.

“But all of us with face unveiled, mirroring the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into the same image.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

7 Both Male and Female

So God filled man up with his own image;
He filled him with the image of God;
He filled them male and female.
(Genesis 1:27)

In this first biblical mention of human beings, it is interesting to note that there is no hierarchy of order. It is male and female, not then. Of course, in the second chapter, we have appearing first male, second female, but this is a chronological position, not a value one. What can we make of this infamous “rib” extraction? Rashi, a medieval Jewish commentator takes the Hebrew on rather cleanly:

The word means of his sides, similar to (Exodus 26:20) ולצלע המשכן “and for the second side of the tabernacle”. This has a bearing upon what they (the Sages) say, (Eruvin 18a): They were created with two faces (sides).

The Exodus reference here is God’s instructions for building the north side and then the south side of the tabernacle. Thus, “side”, as used here, is more like 50%. In Genesis 2, then, a single “rib” hardly seems a fair translation. I’ll let the implications of this sink in.

8 Ignoring Imago Dei is Incalculably Bad
Consider for a moment how grim the outworking of unbelief in Imago Dei has proved historically. Without faith in the divine essence of human beings, people are chattel, women contemptible, embryos inhuman, violations justifiable, and caste, class and race distinctions not only permissible, but lawful — dare I say noble.

This was the kind of world that George Fox, and others like him, had no choice but to deal with in uncompromising fashion. Their model? Jesus, in making his earthward journey, had embarked on a pioneering mission to re-establish the image of God by revealing it in every person — man, woman and child. Rich and poor. Slave and free. Jew and Gentile.

People on both sides of the theological divide regarding human nature need to understand that biblical goodness does not necessarily entail moral fidelity. What I mean is, Jesus (and Paul) announcing people as evil does not contradict that they were made in the image of God, and consequently priceless. This is because, as per Genesis 1:31, we are imbued with value by virtue of the fact that a transcendentally valuable Creator created us.

Oddly enough, in this sense, people can be both good and evil at the same time!

Brian Simmons gives us something to think about:

You reflect a part of God that no one else can reflect. It is part of the mystery of God’s design of your life that reflects back to Him the image of delight. As His keep-sake, you bring to the earth a poetic message from heaven, a “word” sent from His mouth that will not return to Him void. You will accomplish the very thing God has wonderfully chosen for you to accomplish. The Master Artist has wasted not even one stroke with your life. So don’t judge the canvas before the art is finished.
A man, looking at the face he was born with in a mirror, having seen himself and gone away, immediately forgets what he was like. (James 1:23–24)

* See Psa 5:8, 23:3, 85:13, 101:2; Pro 2:9,20, 8:20, 11:5, 12:28, 14:2; Rom 9:32.

The more I learn, the more I discover just how vast a landscape of histories, languages and cultures are featured in the Bible. It’s not easy! Where do you start? That’s why I made a deck of ultra-convenient cards unlocking a rooted understanding of the world’s most treasured book, one card at a time. And, while you’re at it, become a patron and get all kinds of useful New Covenant merch sent to you.

N E X T → Pitch Perfect, Part 1

The Warring Cosmos, Part 3 ← P R E V I O U S