Made in the Image of God

Can the Bible help us understand where we came from? Many say ‘no’, but there is much about us that makes sense in light of what the Bible says.  For example, consider what the Bible teaches about our beginnings.  In the first chapter it says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27

“In the Image of God”

Huỳnh Kim ChíCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What does it mean that God created mankind ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God has two arms and a head.  Rather it is saying that our basic characteristics come from God.  In the Bible, God can be sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same emotions that we have.   We make choices and decisions every day.  God also makes choices and decisions.  We can reason and God also reasons. We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and He made us in His image.  He is the source of what we are.

We are self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  You are like this because God is this way. The God of the Bible is not a non-personality like the ‘Force’ in the movie series Star Wars. Because God made us in His image neither are we.

Why Do we like Beauty?

Johann Georg Platzer, PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

We also value art, drama and beauty. We need beauty in our surroundings.  Music enriches our lives and makes us dance.  We love good stories because stories have heroes, villains, and drama. Great stories put these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  We use art in its many forms to entertain, relax and refresh ourselves because God is an artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking:  Why do we look for beauty in art, drama, music, dance, nature or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an expert on understanding the brain, answers from a non-Bible perspective:

“Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.”

Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43

Apart from God there is no clear answer to why all the forms of art are so important to us.  From the Bible’s point-of-view it is because God made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same. This Biblical teaching makes sense of our love of art.

The Beauty in Mathematics

Closely linked to aesthetic beauty is mathematics. Patterns from geometric ratios give rise to fractals and other shapes that we find beautiful and mathematically elegant. Watch this video explain the elegance of the Mandelbrot Set and ask why abstract concepts such as numbers seem to govern the behaviour of the universe. And why we appreciate its beauty.

Why we are Moral

Being ‘made in God’s image’ explains our morals.  We understand what ‘wrong’ behaviour is and what ‘good’ behaviour is – even though our languages and cultures are very different.  Moral reasoning is ‘in’ us.  As the famous atheist Richard Dawkins puts it:

“Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar …  As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness”

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. p. 223

Dawkins explains that right and wrong is built into us like our ability to have language, but it is difficult for him to explain why we are like this.  Misunderstandings happen when we do not acknowledge God as giving us our moral compass.  Take for example this objection from another famous atheist, Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.”

Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

Harris misunderstands.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. Atheists do not understand why we are like this.

Why are we so Relational?

The starting point to understand yourself is to recognize that you are made in God’s image. It is not hard to notice the importance people place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is much better to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends and family to share experiences with and to improve our well-being.

On the other hand, loneliness and broken family relationships or friendships stress us. 

God is Love

If we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same emphasis with God – and we do.  The Bible says that

“God is Love…”

1 John 4:8

The Bible writes much about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others. Jesus taught that the two most important commands in the Bible are about love.

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

So we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our imagination.  Though He is that, He is also passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical pictures of God are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not distant relationships but are the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.  The Bible says that God is like that.

So let us summarize.  People are made in God’s image, meaning mind, emotions and will.  We are aware of self and others. We know the difference between right and wrong.  People need beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms. We naturally seek out relationships and friendships with others. You are like this because God is like this and you have been made in God’s image. 

You – An Image of Value

Now reflect a bit more about images. We only place important images on objects of value. For example, currencies in almost all countries carry an image of a founding father or revered figure of that country’s history. So the US $5 dollar bill has an image of Abraham Lincoln on its front. You will never see a currency with an image of a common object like an orange. The intrinsic value of an image derives from what it is an image of. An image of Abraham Lincoln is valuable to Americans so they place that image on important objects, like their money.

In the same way, because you are in God’s image (and not in some other image) you are immensely valuable. You carry worth and dignity regardless of your wealth, age, education, social status, language, and gender simply because you are ‘in the image of God’. God knows this and He wants you to realize this as well.

But if this is so, why is the world, yours and mine, full of endless cycles of suffering and death?  The Biblical story continues on to explain how this arose.