It is only by God’s call that a person becomes a person

Is man like God or similar to God? What does it mean when we read that man was created in the image of God? Easy questions—difficult answers.

Right at the beginning of the creation accounts, Scripture speaks of man in the image of God: God created man in His image. He created them as man and woman. The idea of man being created in the image of God is an age-old subject that repeatedly rises to the theological surface, and has led some individuals to arrive at some rather curious assumptions. Arrogant feelings of superiority produced by false delusions of grandeur have even led to wars. Childish grandfather images of God diminish Him and bring Him down to the level of a fallible human being—a disastrous step. All of these human views have one thing in common: they are all based on an image of man whose equal is God! And yet the reason the idea of mankind in the image of God has become so firmly entrenched is quite the opposite: man has been created in the image of God—not God in the image of man!

God creates man in His image

Eikōn and imago are the terms used in the early Greek and Latin translations of the Bible, respectively. In modern Bible studies, this has led to the formulation “divine likeness”. From the perspective of the Old Testament, this is naturally rather problematic, because the Hebrew text speaks of man in the image of God, or the human “likeness of the divine”. So what does this mean?

The explanation in chapter 3.3.2 of the New Apostolic Catechism reads as follows: “[Man] has been given an exceptional position within the visible creation: he is the one whom God loves and to whom God speaks.” Beyond that, the explanation goes on to state that man being created in the image of God is a reference to the fact that God became Man in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the second Adam, in whom the image of God can be seen in perfect measure. But as the CNAC warns, this does not mean that one could conclude anything about God’s nature from human nature—this is only the case with Jesus Christ.

Being in His image means taking on responsibility

Human beings can speak, sing, laugh, become angry, rejoice, think, make decisions, act responsibly, live conscientiously, probe the future, and explore—they are gifted beings, says the CNAC. It goes on to add: “God gave His most distinguished creation a life force and also permitted them to share in divine characteristics such as love, personality, freedom, reason, and immortality. God enables human beings to recognise the Creator, to love Him and to praise Him. Thus human beings are oriented to God even though they may not always recognise the true God and may put something else in His place.”

God also speaks: “Through the Word He created everything and called man by name. It is by hearing the divine call that a human being perceives himself as a person—it is through God’s address of a human being as ‘you’ that the person becomes ‘I’. The person is now capable of praising God, communicating with God in prayer, and listening to God’s word. The ability to make free decisions also derives from the fact that man is created in God’s image. At the same time, the freedom with which he has been endowed makes man responsible for his actions. He must bear the consequences of his deeds (Genesis 2: 16–17),” writes the Catechism.

Man and woman both equally created in the image of God

Man and woman have both been created equally in the image of God, and are thus both like Him in their nature—this may sound like a simple statement, but it is far from being accepted everywhere in the world. Man and woman, woman and man, were not only created with one another, but also for one another—and they both have the same commission, namely to rule over the earth, in other words, to shape and protect it, as the Catechism teaches. This mandate results in a high degree of responsibility: “This authority granted to mankind does not entitle them to deal with creation in a reckless way, however. Rather, because they have been created in the image of God, it is their duty to treat creation in a manner befitting divine nature: with wisdom, kindness, and love.”

The following can be derived as guiding principles:

  • All human beings have been created by God—unique creatures of His creation—and are thus fundamentally good.
  • Human beings encounter God’s image in one another. My neighbour bears the image of God.
  • A great degree of responsibility is associated with being human, and it is important to live up to this responsibility. God’s creation requires our goodness!

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Peter Johanning
Bible Study , Divine service