By Peter Reat Gatkuoth
May 11, 2012 (SSNA) — In the Christian religion and traditions, it is often noted that humanity was made in the image of God. This can also be interpreted in many ways, although some may argue that this notion provides the faithfulness with physical image of God which they can readily relate to. However, at the same time it also indicates that God is a spiritual being and that human beings also have the capacity for great spiritual progression. Therefore, the scope of this article will explore and examine what it means to be made in the image of God and how was human came into different believe and assumption of the image of God.
The fact that God made humans in his image has been suggested by many narratives and many authors. The book of Genesis clearly states that humanity was created in the “image of God”. Genesis 1:27 reads “Let us make man (reference to human being, male and female) in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air; over the livestock, over all the earth and over the creatures that move along the ground.” This refers to humanity being created in the image of God with the gift of domination over the other creatures. It is preceded by a passage that refers to the creation of all other creatures of the world, which are all created “according to their kind.” The context of this passage implies the fact that humanity resembles God, that is, the human race is similar to God “in kind” or in manner that is analogous to the way in which the other creature of the world is similar. This supposition is supported by the parallel ties established by God, placing the whole of the natural world under the dominion of humanity, just as humanity is under the dominion of God.
However, there is nothing in scripture or history that suggests that human beings are similar physically to any aspect of the divine. While God has been pictured in painting and statuary since antiquity as possessing a human form, there is nothing in the scripture that support this as a reality. The key to understanding what is meant by the “likeness” or “image” of God appears in the third chapter of Genesis after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Genesis 3:22 states that God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” This suggests the fact that what makes humanity similar to the divine is not a physical resemblance, but rather a spiritual one. It is a resemblance that is cognitive rather than physical. Genesis 1:28 emphasizes the fact that humanity has dominion over the earth. It reads that God said “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” This injunction has often been used throughout the ages to justify humanity’s often misuse of the natural environment. However, the Genesis account clearly suggests that there are parallels in the microcosm of the earth compared to the greater macrocosm of God’s universe rather than a gift to be exploited. This implication from the genesis account is that humanity is the earth’s steward. It is the obligation of the human race to oversee God’s creation in the same loving and just manner that God oversees the fortunes of humanity.
Furthermore, one particular author notes that “we may take it to mean that physically and literally our bodies have shape and form of God, or we read it symbolically and poetically to mean that our nature and disposition as humans imitates and displays the very nature and disposition of God the creator”(Gibson, 2006). This perhaps brings literally to our mind the question of who is actually “we.” Is this in the reference to ancient man or modern man or “just whoever claims the likeness of God for himself/herself?” (Gibson, 2006). Gibson indicates that if we truly believe that we are made in the image of God, this could and should lead to a change in attitude and behavior. It gives us possession of “positive attitudes of respect, value and consideration for all human beings including ourselves. Jesus urged and encouraged us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves” (Gibson, 2006).
If we are made in the image of God then this is perhaps a key truth associated with our spiritual abilities as human being in the image of God; however, there is some controversy over the key phrase “in our image” as it seems to imply that human beings are in some way like God. This might apparently indicates from whatever perspective one wants to argue that there is something about humanity (if we assume “man” refers to men and women) that is very similar to God. Many people believe that this refers to the physical appearance of humanity and this would certainly be the predominant understanding of Israel’s Near Eastern neighbors where gods were physical entities themselves, usually very similar in corporeal appearance to humans.
On the other hand, it may well be the fact that when people envision that they are made in the image of God, they find comfort because they are able to associate a bodily form to the spiritual notion of God. Through claiming that God is somehow human in appearance, people can all essentially share the same foundations of understanding and interpretation. It would be all but impossible for human beings to all agree on any other image of God but a human image, simply because we have different colors for my God should look black as I do and this will make me to understand her more than an imagination if we go by physical shape. People could not agree, for example, to an image that was ethereal and of a particular color or a particular shape.
The human form is far easier to accept and embrace and in that form there is a sense of safety and familiarity that all people can share. Vein Klassen (2006) stated that “making humans in the images of God presupposed that God has an image which is problematic for non-physical understanding of Yahweh.” This also implies the fact that human being should not be the same as the image of God. It was just the fact that personality character of Most Christian’s thinking or any other religious believe was deeply connected (on the one hand) with the idea that “we humans” (unlike all the rest of creation) were created in the very ‘image of God’ as the climax of creation, and with the fact that the traditional conception of God was itself constructed on the model of the human agent. While God is and was a cosmic being, people needed to be able to relate to the cosmic being and part of that comes in assuming that God has something of a human form.
There have been various interpretations of the phrase “image of God” by noted theologians throughout the history. For example, Thomas Aquinas believed that this phrase denoted “the human ability to think, reason, use language and create art.” It does not mean that human beings should perfectly be like God, but have some form of God that indicates the fact that God had made humans in his own way. The New Testament is equally emphatic that the Christian should conform to the image of Christ. Gerhard points out that “with the coming of Christ and the nation of Israel, God set Israel aside for this age and founded the church of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, Romans 8:29 read that “for those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son, that he might be firstborn among many brothers.” At first glance, these positions may seem contradictory as if the image of Christ overrules the previous paradigm for humanity which was to consider itself as being in the image of God. This brings up a numerous questions of how the Christian meant to interpret this doctrine and how is the covenant established in the Old Testament.
In many instances, the image of God refers primarily to humanity moral capacities as to my own understanding. Christians conform to God’s image as the Holy Spirit image restores their moral capacities. Genesis 2:15 illustrated the fact in a very distinctive way that extend the notion of the image of God to include all men. God create human and distinguished them from other creatures. The image of God perhaps may refer to “intellectual and rational abilities to think, and reason, specifically to make moral decision. God give us the power, wisdom to work accurately and functionally in the same way as he may perhaps do. He offers us the power to dominate and control other creatures on earth.
While the image of God for humans can mean many things morally, it may well be that most humans recognize that it does not necessarily mean God is in the human form. Instead, it refers to a form of spirituality where there is something within every human being that is reflective of God. Human beings should not compare their actual images to the powerful spiritual being close to the figure of Jesus if we only awaken to that part of our being. Theoretically, God is a spiritual being with no kind of any form, but could make herself any kind, black or white when there is a need so that people can understand her better.
The author is currently in Central America. You can reach him at [email protected]