The Image of God
From Discover Your Destiny
The eastern sun, fashioning with its golden rays that sixth day of world history, would never again shine on a simple, nonprovocative world. No more would earth be only soil, sky, and sea, populated simply by amoral beasts reacting to impulses from inner mechanisms. Indeed not, for on this day our speeding planet would take to itself a new master. This unforgettable morning was to bring the dawn of human destiny.
Having formed the heavens and the earth with infinitely articulate hands, the Creator of the universe would this day choose to mirror Himself, placing His own likeness in the life on another being. For good or evil, the God of the universe would now make an irreversible commitment to create and nurture to maturity a being who was to share His own life, a being with wide capabilities in the realm of the physical, the moral, the intellectual, and the spiritual. This was the day of beginning. This was the day in which 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26-27).
There you have it—the most stupendous announcement of ancient history. “Man was made in the image of God!” This statement contains the distilled essence of all that man is: his origin, his nature, his ultimate goal.
A simple reading of the first chapter of Genesis (and no small percentage of us who read the Scriptures are simple readers) bring us quickly to this high point in God’s creation. In the first verse of Genesis 1, and in the account of the first five days of creation, we gain the picture of an efficient God creating the physical universe and the natural beauties of our world by the work of His hands. By the end of the fifth day, the “things” of God’s creation had been formed. Here God surveyed the material wonders that He had fashioned. He saw that they were good. The sun and the stars were shining above sparkling seas that reached from the snows of the north to the burning sands of equatorial climes. The forests of earth sheltered their animal life, and rivers flowed astride grassy plains reaching from mountain to seashore. God saw that it was good.
When we read the account of creation in the first few verses of Genesis 1, we sense not only the majestic beauty of God’s handiwork but the ease with which God made the natural wonders of the universe. All that exists of the beauties of creation were done with the spoken word or the sweep of the hand. The whole story of the beginning of the natural universe is encompassed in a relatively few verses in the Scripture and presented as if this were neither a costly nor a tiring process on the part of the Creator. It is apparent that the process, however long or short, by which God traced the courses of the rivers, dipped out the troughs for the seas or raised the mountains to their majestic heights are but an incidental prelude to a larger creative purpose. The world with its profusion of plant and animal life is obviously only the background context for a higher, fuller kind of life. The majesty of the heavens and the beauties of earth described in just a few verses imply the towering importance of a final act of creation of which the Bible now speaks.
After the completion of this work of fashioning the natural universe, God now revealed that this was but a prelude to His real purpose in Creation. The indication is that here God took counsel with Himself. The being of the Triune God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-considered together the final step of creation, the magnificence of which would make all preexisting units of creation pale by comparison. God then said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
In the midst of the Garden of Eden God fashioned from the elements of earth a body for man. Leaning over the inert form of that first human, God placed upon this little image of Himself that loving kiss of life. The lips of clay quivered into vitality as God breathed His own life force into that first man, making of him a living soul. From that moment, Adam and all his heirs would share the life and the likeness of God. So began man, child of immortal purpose, whose very breath is in succession to the breath of God, whose heartbeat reflects the pulse of the Creator of the universe.
The image of God! What could be the meaning of this? The full answer to this question could not be contained in the books of all the worlds. The prolonged research of the scholars of earth have yielded but the beginning of a response to that question. One of the early astonishments of heaven will be not only the beholding of our majestic God but also the realization of the breadth of capability that He built into our lives when He made us like Himself. When this passing world has yielded to the reality of eternity, then surely will I stand astonished upon discovering the man that I might have been-indeed, the man that I was all the time.
We have a fact of the everyday life of man which the Scripture indicates illustrates something of what it is like to be made in the image of God. In the fifth chapter of Genesis, the Bible says:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth (Genesis 5:1-3).
When Adam looked into the little face of his son, he was looking at another being that had been produced in his image, in somewhat the same sense that he himself had been made in the image of God. The flash of his eyes, the shape of his lips, and the very breath in his mouth resembled those same characteristics in the being of his father who was made in the image of God. So it is that to this very day there is something in the best of men and something about the worst of men that bears, despite profound degeneration, the likeness of One who made the father of the human race in His image. There is something magnificent about man. Something far beyond whatever could have been produced by an imaginary upward evolution from the brute beasts of the field. So it is that the spirit of man is forever dreaming of something higher, something better, like a captive tiger longing for a jungle home. So man, in his more perceptive moments, know inductively that his origin and his destiny is from somewhere beyond the sunlit skies of this constricting little planet.
Musing about this question of the nature and destiny of man, a shepherd one day revealed his innermost thoughts in the book of Psalms. Standing under the night sky and looking up at the broad arch of the starlit heavens, he wrote,
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:3-9).
David is not belittling man and exalting the universe. With the inspiration of God in his mind, he is attempting to do exactly the opposite. The writer, aware of the Creation story, knew that the distant heavens and the present earth were fashioned by the hands of God. He said they are “the work of thy fingers.” He knew as well that man, according to the Scripture, was made in the image of God and therefore is saying, “When I see the heavens which you have made with your fingers, what must man be who is continually the object of the thoughts of your mind?”
There is an awesome difference between the nature and function of the mere physical universe and the purpose, the destiny that has been built into his creature of earth called man. David said, “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Man was never made to be subject to or enslaved by unvarying laws in the midst of which he has no volitional power of his own. Man is not a puppet; he is a free being made not to be dominated, but to himself have dominion over the works of God. It is imperative that we remember this lest we begin to believe at any time that God is a tyrant as against a loving, wise creator.
Though only eternity will reveal what is fully meant by “the image of God,” there are some reasonable assumptions that we can draw today about this likeness to God that is ours. Certainly there is a sense in which man in his physical body bears the evidence of his divine origin. David said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). The keen eye, the hearing ear, the eloquent tongue, and the talented fingers, all point to a master designer of this body of flesh. Additionally, the ability to reproduce all these in bringing forth a son or a daughter is living evidence in man’s physical being of the creative capability of God. No man can look in the little image of a happy father’s face, or no woman see her own beauty springing up again at her feet, and sanely deny that the life of God had alone made this possible.
In his intellectual capabilities, man shows evidence of Godlikeness. The mind of man can reach beyond the length of his arms and produce by his creative genius an architectural wonder, a mathematical equation, or by his powers of deductive reasoning a philosophic proposition that causes the unfolding of truth. Every intricate human device in today’s world came as a result of the mind of man involving itself in the process of creative thinking. So impressive have been man’s powers of deductive reasoning that some philosophers of history have presented this ability as basic proof of man’s existence.
The most essential fashion, however, in which man bore the image of God was that man was like God morally. God built into a man a capability which is not present in any animal-moral capability, the ability to be good or evil. In fact, very good or very evil. No beast of the field, whether consuming the carcass of a natural enemy or fawning at the feet of its master, is being “good” or “bad.” It is only doing what comes naturally. With man, however, there is a world of difference. In an animal the basis of life is purely physical: food, shelter, survival. Those things are the total of its life. For man, however, the basis of life is not physical but moral.
An almost forgotten fact in our generation is that real things are not made of atoms and molecules but rather they are fashioned with building blocks that are moral. The dimension indicated by the measurement of right and wrong is far more important than the dimension measured by up and down or length and breadth. The fact that man lives in a physical universe is incidental to the fact that he lives in a moral universe. The Bible, therefore, insists that the most important quality to be sought after by every man is “righteousness” or “holiness” which in essence means “to be like God.” As the physical body of man cannot survive without constantly breathing the ethereal-but imperative-gas called oxygen, so it is that the spiritual part of man, the real man, cannot survive without oxygen of the spirit, the holiness of God. There is no sense fighting it. This is the way it is. Stating this principle, the Bible says, “In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It also expresses the fatal converse when it says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
When God created man He could give him an adult body, but it was impossible that man could be anything but a child morally. Moral excellence is such a thing as cannot be created but rather must come by exercising volitional power, the power of choice. The possibility of moral maturity, namely the prospect of being like God Himself, is so remarkable a gift, so marvelous a prospect, as to be worth almost any risk to obtain.
In making man to share His moral universe with Himself, God therefore had to allow for the possibility of hateful rebellion against Himself as well as loving adherence to His will. Surely it was God’s intention that man should move from innocence to holiness and become like God by growing into his mature image. It was with this in mind that God esteemed the creation of man as worth the risk. Who can calculate with what infinite hope God chose to make a being who would ultimately, by th process of moral maturing, become like Himself and share with Him the rulership of His universe?
In the act of creation, then, man was invested by God with wide moral capabilities. Man can be far more evil than any beast of the field and far more good than any household pet. In fact, the words “good” and “evil” are without significance in the animal world; they have meaning only in the moral universe where man lives with his God. This is the world of reality, the world of right and wrong in which the very basis of life is moral.
We have, then, this stupendous fact that we were made in the image of God. If this were all we knew about ourselves, it should certainly motivate us to magnificent exploits—exploits in the only arena that matters, the realm of the moral and the spiritual. Every person who lives must inevitably face the daily choices between right and wrong. These choices are most intelligently made when we remember our heavenly heritage.
The young man who is deciding his answer to the question, In what way shall I invest my life? can helpfully remember, I am made in the image of God!
The businessman who is negotiating between honesty and dishonesty does well to say again within his own heart, I am made in the image of God!
The young couple, entranced with the moonlight shining through the windshield of a nocturnally parked automobile, must say again to themselves, We are made in the image of God!
The student, choosing the source of the answers on his examination paper need only to recall, I am made in the image of God!
Every person who lives favors himself by daily purposing, I will not be cheap or ordinary, insipid or mediocre. I will take the one life I will live in this world and I will live it for the most noble purpose of which I am capable. I will give myself to the things that are true, honorable and decent. I will never live with food, drink or pleasure as the objects of my life, but I will live in the light of my origin in God. Surely a responsible Creator will hold me accountable for fulfilling the meaning of that moral image that He has built into my being. I will command myself to be a man indeed. I will never surrender the exalted position that is mine by divine inheritance and sink to the level of an animal or below. I was made in the image of God and I will strangle any base ambition or lowly desire. I will count as evil any otherwise good pursuit that would lead me away from the path of my pure purpose to fulfill the will of God.
The image of God! Here is heritage above price, promising hope beyond measure.
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