WHAT IS HUMAN?

CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE

In Psalm 8:4 David asked the question ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’

As he pondered this question, part of his answer was ‘you … crowned him with glory’.  Here we are taken right back to Genesis 1:26,27 where God informs us that he created us ‘in his own image’, in his likeness.

This ‘in the image of God’ has been interpreted in a range of ways. Probably the most extreme suggests a physical likeness, but this is easily disproved by Jesus’ teaching that ‘God is spirit’ [John 4:24]. The image of God cannot be about physical likeness.

Some see ‘the image of God’ as consisting in the ‘dominion’ over the created world that God gave to Adam and Eve [Genesis 1:26,28], and David mentions this God-given responsibility in Psalm 8:5-8.

Some see ‘the image of God’ as consisting in those aspects of humans that are ‘personal’, aspects that distinguish ‘man’ from ‘beast’ – things such as emotions, the freedom to choose, language, moral conscience, creativity, thought, and so on. These things distinguish the ‘human’ from the existence and movement of the inanimate universe [which operates like an enormous machine] and the animate creatures [which live by instinct].

I would like to suggest that these things, while they can be ways in which the ‘image of God’ is expressed, do not in themselves constitute the ‘image of God’. I suggest this because all of these – the dominion and the personal aspects – are still part of us after Genesis 3, after ‘the fall’, after our disconnection from God. It is clear from the New Testament that part of the salvation we are given in Jesus Christ is the gradual restoration of the image of God:

‘And we, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ [2Corinthians 3:18].

‘… and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’ [Colossians 310].

Whatever the image of God is, something happened to it in Genesis 3, something that needs fixing. When we, in Adam, turned our back on God, the ‘glory’ left us. With out backs to God we no longer reflected his glory – we no longer imaged him. As Paul teaches in Romans 3:23 we ‘fall short of the glory of God’.

When we return to the Lord, when we reconnect to the Lord by believing in his Son, we are restored to the positive, dependent relationship with God that makes it possible for us to be what he created us to be. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the active agent of this on-going restoration and transformation. Thus Paul states in Colossians 1:27 ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’, and the writer to the Hebrews condenses the purpose and impact of the saving work of God in Christ into this brief description: ‘bringing many sons to glory’ [Hebrews 2:10].

From the beginning of creation, and underlying the whole incredible incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this is God’s creative and saving purpose for humans: glory. Not intrinsic, stand-alone glory, but the glory of imaging, reflecting God. A glory that is possible only when we stand in a positive, face-to-face relationship with God.

When our human lives most image God, most glorify God, most reflect him, we are ourselves most glorious, most truly, most fully, human.

The ultimate and complete restoration of this ‘image of God’ is one of the results of the return of Jesus Christ:

‘… we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ [1John 3:2].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016