Image and Substance

One of the easiest ways to teach a subject is to use object lessons. They are the bread and butter of every poet. “Bread and butter” is actually an image that means it is a staple. They bring a vivid and concrete understanding to abstract ideas.

But “image” is used in a different way when Genesis talks about the “image of God” placed in every human being. Scholars and theologians have endeavored to understand what it means to be made in God’s image. Some suggest it refers to physical features while others point to faculties we share with God.

God’s image is first mentioned three times in Genesis 1:26-27. “Image” occurs five times in Genesis. It is also prevalent in the history and prophetic books of the Old Testament. It’s used almost exclusively in Genesis for God’s image and once for Adam’s image in Seth (Genesis 5:3).

But throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this word is only used for idols. This shows that it is tied to divine image, whether God or idols. Thinking of the image of God in humans as physical makes sense in light of these details.

Seeing the image of God as a physical look-alike to God in us could lead us to believe we are “little gods.” Psalm 82:6-7 mentions “little gods” with the understanding that humans thought they were that close to God when really he used it in jest.

The context of Psalm 82 is the divine counsel. The creatures God speaks with may be gods of the nations or demons masquerading as idols. If they are human beings, perhaps kings or princes. Everyone interpreted differently.

Some say it refers to humans and make an entire theology about being little gods. They say if God’s Spirit is in us, then we are little gods. But God in this Psalm is judging these wicked creatures. Christians who may consider themselves gods are pointing to a passage about idols. That doesn’t work very well.

Scripture teaches that humans and God are different in many ways. God’s image in us shows some similarities but it doesn’t make us gods. Many of God’s attributes are his alone. God’s substance is his only. Humans are made out of dirt. We have our place among his creation while he is outside of creation.

God isn’t a physical being. He is a spiritual being (John 4:24). God and humanity are different. Because of these major differences I don’t believe the word “image” is based on the idea of a physical resemblance to God.

I do believe that we share some similar characteristics between humans and God. The context of Genesis 1:27 were God’s image is mentioned falls in the middle of the marriage covenant. The complementary relationship, physical and relational, shows a completion of God’s image. When husband and wife are united it resembles on a smaller level the relationship between the members of the Trinity.

What does the image of God referred to in humans? How do we bear his image? Animals do not have God’s image but humans do. Human beings should look upward rather them downward for their identity. Science proclaims humans fit within the animal kingdom while God declares he has placed his image in us.

Many scholars point to our faculties which make us different from animals but are the direct result of bearing God’s image. These are the images God demonstrates that animals do not. Abilities such as reason and critical thinking skills, emotions, and speaking or communicating on a higher level are some major ones.

Some animals have a higher capacity than others. Dolphins seem to have a higher intelligence than many of their counterparts. Instinct guides animals who may have a small capacity for emotional awareness and volition. But humans demonstrate these in a much higher quality.

Creativity is another powerful difference between humans and animals. But God demonstrates creativity from the very moment of creation itself. We show the ability to have free choice and decide many things. Animals have free choice on a more limited scale. These examples demonstrate the differences between the image of God in humans and animals.

Unfortunately, God’s image in us was marred by the Fall in Genesis 3. Those faculties given by God are affected because of sin. Immediately, innocence and vulnerability were lost. The sin faculties God placed in us can now be used for evil. We used our intelligence to find even more depraved ways to think and do things.

The Bible never describes God’s image in humanity as lost. There’s hope that it might be restored like a painting that has gathered dust. But sin has marred and tainted God’s beautiful image in humanity. That image still gives every human being great value.

We must avoid “Worm theology.” It comes from Psalm 22:6. The psalmist is not declaring humans worthless but that human perspective is finite compared to God’s. The vast majority of Scripture speaks highly of humans.

If humans held so little value, why would Jesus die for us on the cross? God pursued the reconciliation of relationship between him and humanity because we hold much value to him. He shows over and over that he cares greatly for us.

In the New Testament, the image of God is enhanced through the image of Christ. We first see the image of Christ when Jesus addressed paying taxes to Caesar in Palestine (Matthew 22:15-22).

The Jewish leaders tried to trap Jesus in the conundrum of paying taxes to Caesar. None of the Jews liked Caesar but the people who asked were basically Roman spies, loyal to the Romans even though they were Jews.

If Jesus says yes then the Jews would be upset. If he says no, the Roman sympathizers will report him. Instead, he asks for a coin. Then he asks, “Whose image is on it?” They told him it was Caesar’s image. He answered, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

The significance of this is that God’s image is on human beings. Just as the coin belonged to Caesar because it had his image, we belong to God because we have his image. Our value is wrapped up in God because we bear his image whether we know him or not.

The image of Christ is found in Romans 8:28-30. Paul speaks of the process of becoming like Jesus. He explains that those who have already been saying are predestined for God’s service. God predestined them to be conformed to Christ’s image.

God’s people who are part of his purpose he determines to be like Jesus. He makes Jesus’ disciples like him. Our value is in the hands by Jesus’ image as we follow him and become more like him. Believing in Jesus lines us up for the automatic process of becoming like him.

So Christ’s image is like God’s image. It is transforming our character, thoughts, heart, and lives to line up with God’s character. Sin marred God’s image but Christ restores his image in us.

God’s image shows up as the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:10). Renewal is being renewed into Christ’s image. Paul also talks about the continual process of the renewing of our minds into Christ (Romans 12:1-2).

The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the image of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:3). The word isn’t “image” but “imprint.” It is the same idea. Jesus is God’s invisible image made visible to us. Paul also equates Jesus with God’s image (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15).

Tax humans gave up God’s image and glory of living with him for idols (Romans 1:23). This reminds us of the Old Testament usage of image for divinity or idols. “Image” is used throughout the Bible for God, Christ, and idols.

The Bible gives us two choices. We all have God’s image but we can either serve idol images were turned to Christ and take on his image. Only through Christ can God’s image be restored and our relationship along with it.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think about the similarities between the image of God and the image of Christ.

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