Made in the Image of God

Can we use the Bible to understand where we came from? Many say ‘no’, but there is much about us that makes sense in the 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”

What does it mean that mankind was created ‘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 everyday.  God also makes choices and decisions too.  We can think and God does also.  Being ‘made in the image of God’ means that we have mind, emotions and will because God has mind, emotions and will and He created us to be like him in these ways.  He is the source of what we find in us.

We are self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We 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 and neither are we because we are made in His image.

Why do we like beauty?

We also value art, drama and beauty. We need beauty in our surroundings, music and books.  Music enriches our lives and makes us dance.  We love good stories because stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the 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 authority on understanding the brain, answers from a non-Bible perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  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.

Why we are Moral

Being ‘made in God’s image’ explains our moral capability.  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 our awareness of right and wrong is built into us like our ability to have language, but it is difficult for him to explain why we have this from only physical sources.  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

Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we 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.  Conversely, loneliness and broken family relationships or friendships stress us.  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).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since it requires at least two people.

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 minds.  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’s relationship with people 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 here is what we have learned so far.  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.  We can appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms and we will naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  We continue next to see the Bible’s explanation of why our relationships almost always disappoint us and why God seems so distant. Why our deepest longings never seem to work out.

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