December 5, 2013

What does it mean to be human?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Several ideas have been considered. One is that God thinks, so we also think and can reason. However, the Bible gives no suggestion that this is what it means. Knowledge of God is never describe as cerebral, but is far more intimate, as a husband and wife know each other.

Another theory says the image is about our function. We were created to have dominion over the earth. While this is true, it does not define image. Also, God created the sun and moon to rule the “lesser lights” but they were not made in His image.

Others say that the image of God relates to righteousness and holiness, that we are made to be those things. While sin distorted that image, the New Testament uses this language to say the image is restored by redemption and the power of God. While the Bible speaks of sinners being made in the image of God, clearly there is a marring of it, like mud thrown on a mirror.

Another idea says that we are like God in that we are relational, made like the trinity who love and work together. Yet the texts about being made in the image of God do not have this theme attached to them. Relationships matter, but this isn’t a distinguishing mark of being human. Animals mate and run in packs too.

This week’s studies had me thinking about the nature of an image. If I look in the mirror, that which I see is nothing of itself, but completely dependent upon me. From that image, I can see if my hair needs combing, but it isn’t the hair of the image. In other words, the image is completely dependent upon that which it reflects.

In being made in His image, we are not God. We were made instead to reflect who He is, and like my reflection depends on me, our ability to “image” God depends on God and not ourselves. His creative power determined that we should be a visual representation of Him, the one who is invisible. How awesome!

The same is said of the Christ, but we are not the same as Jesus. He is God who came in human flesh to do what we failed to do because of sin. Our image reflecting abilities were marred in Eden and ruined by our heaping sin upon sin. I’m still made in God’s image, but the only way anyone can see God in me is if the sin is washed away, and if I am filled with His Spirit and obedient to Him. Those things depend on Him for I cannot wash away my sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit, or even obey God apart from His work in my life.

Does this take faith? You bet! When I look in the mirror, all I see is the marring. Whatever reflection is there seems hidden to my eyes even though it might be seen by the eyes of others. To carry on takes faith, yet if I am trusting God, then I am also free from anxious effort like a child is free. Faith helps me know that my life is being lived as it was created to live.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Such assurance is also evidence of being an image-bearer. Faith is also totally dependent on God, not on me. I’m like that reflection in the mirror, unable to live, or move, or have my being apart from the One who created me. It is good and not a failure to be needy, or to be called to live on borrowed breath. God created me, a mere image that limits me — for an image cannot do anything apart from God — yet it also means being free from the impossible burden of playing God and trying to shape my own destiny. This is what it means to be human.

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