What is man? (Part 2: Our Image)
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4).
Our understanding of humanity will have a big impact on how we answer this question. Why does humanity matter? More importantly, why does humanity matter to God?
As we’ve pointed out before, we are God’s handiwork, made for his glory. This explains the reason behind why we were made and it reveals the purpose for which we were made. It doesn’t, however, explain how we were made. What makes us unique? How did God fit us to be instruments for his glory?
Genesis 1:26 gives us the answer: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Man was uniquely created in God’s image – no other creature in God’s creation was made in His image. But what does it mean to be made in God’s image? Believers have pondered this question for centuries, and while they may differ on some of the details, they’ve generally come to identify three key aspects of God’s image in man.
First, it means that we represent God. In the ancient Near East the king was considered the visible representation of the nation’s deity. Therefore the king ruled on behalf of God. In v. 26 we see that man is given dominion over creation, which points to man representing God in ruling creation. Our place in the food chain is determined by our relation to God as his image bearers.
Second, it means that we can have a relationship with God. In v. 27 the pattern of male and female is said to be part of the image. This implies that man, in the image of God, was made to be relational. We were created with the capacity to have meaningful relationships with one another and ultimately with God. By God’s design no man is an island.
Third, it means that we bear a resemblance to God. We do not bear a physical resemblance to God, because God is Spirit. However, we were made with characteristics that we share with God and not with other creatures: reason, morality, language, creativity and the like. When God created man He communicated or imparted some of his own attributes to us (though to a lesser degree): holiness, righteousness, love, kindness... There are other attributes that God did not communicate to us, like immutability (unchangeableness), but those attributes that God did communicate to us enable us to resemble or reflect God in the world.
Because we bear this resemblance to God (reflecting his attributes) we can have meaningful relationships with God and others, as well as rule over creation as God’s representatives. Clearly we are more than just highly evolved animals: God made us as his image-bearers. Tragically this image was marred and distorted by the fall (Genesis 3), but when we think about what it means to be human, we should not forget God’s original design: image-bearer.
Because of Christ,
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