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Imago Dei - Image of God

Imago Dei is misunderstood and misused.

Too, too often we appeal to it to assure ourselves that we are superior to the rest of the Creation, to excuse our arrogance (which God showed, through Ezekiel [16:49] that He hates) and even to justify our plundering of the world.

Imago Dei is, instead, an expression of the heart of God, to be with rather than above His Creation. We can see this not only throughout Scripture, and in the coming of Christ, but even twice in the first three chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 2, we find God coming down to see what the man would name the animals "and that was its true name" - God gave to humanity the dignity of actually constructing true names, and names then were more then labels. In Genesis 3, God "came down" to walk in the garden, as, it seems, was God's wont. God's heart is humility not arrogance, as is so beautifully expressed in Philippians 2; God desires to be and work with His Creation, not (as the pagans believed) above it, with it serving God. As God said through Isaiah, "Immanuel", God with us. As God acted in Jesus, God with us, dwelling among us.

Imago Dei expresses this humility and love. God chose to give one portion of Creation, namely humanity, some God-oriented responsibility for developing the Creation, to open up its full potential. The natural world obeys God's command to thrive, and so God installed humankind to subdue this and bring some beauty out of it. God could have done this Himself, but God chose to give one portion of Creation the dignity of doing so.

That is Imago Dei. Humility, love and service for the sake of the other, not arrogance, status and plundering.

See also:

Longer Discussion

This bit is discursive and boring! but makes the above into a brief argument.

Imago Dei is the Latin for "image of God". In the first book of the Bible, which sets the background for it all, God created everything, and then made human beings (male and female) in God's image and likeness, and links that with giving human beings responsibility for shepherding the rest of Creation.

Many debate what being made in the image of God (Imago Dei) means and what it implies, but I want to ask another question, Why?. Why did God make human beings in His image and likeness? It is from answering this that we can then discuss what it means and implies.

Of course, we can never fully know the mind of God, but perhaps we can find some clues. Many have presumed answers to "Why?" and occasionally voiced them, but usually as adjuncts to support what they say about what Imago Dei means.

I can find five main answers, of which I prefer the fifth. God created humanity and human beings in God's image and likeness because (to put it slightly more bluntly than some might prefer) ...

Let us look at them one by one.

1. "God created human beings in God's image so that humans are lords"

Those who take the first answer call on the verse in Psalm 8 "What is man (humanity)? ... You gave set him over all things." But this is a very narrow idea, and ignores most of the rest of Scripture, about the humility, love, longsuffering of God. It is often used as an excuse by those who deny climate change, who want humanity to plunder the earth and use its resources for their own pleasure.

2. "God created human beings in God's image because God liked the look of Himself"

Those who take the second answer call upon the verse about God delighting to have Jesus as image, coupled with the verse about Jesus being the forerunner and prototype of humanity, a 'second Adam'. This speaks of a cosy family, with God as head, isolated from all else and enjoying nothing but relationship and worship. I find that boring, though many might not, because I love nature and technology etc.

3. "God created human beings in God's image because God wanted items to relate to"

Was God lonely? But if God is three-in-one as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity understands, then God already had 'company' within Godself.

God is relational in character. So God created beings to relate to, which were not God. However, God could relate to beings unlike God, for example animals or plants - for example as provider (Psa 104). And yes the trees, mountains and seas and animals respond to God. So I find relationality a little thin as an explanation of why God created us in God's image.

4. "God created human beings in God's image because God loves and wants to be loved."

As with relating, if God is Trinity, then love is within Godself, so there was not need to create. More than relating, love is outward-going and outward-directed and so God created an entire universe to love.

However, unlike relating, does love imply reciprocal being-loved? Is it not the nature of love, as opposed to mere relational goodwill, to be fulfilled in being loved in return? "We love because he first loved us." [I John]. I am not fully convinced by that, especially as agape love does not depend on being loved in return. However, if this is so, it might explains why God made beings "in God's likeness" insofar as they could love in the way God loves (though probably in a thinner way because of being-created).

Unfortunately, this does not really explain why God created human beings in God's image because surely God's love would have been more fulfilled if God created all beings with the capacity to love. Yet Scripture tells us that God created human beings, and not animals or plants, in God's image and likeness. Why?

5. "God created human beings in God's image because human beings are to represent God to the rest of creation."

As we have seen, it makes sense that God created all the universe because God loves (whether or not love implies being-loved). However, if we ask how the love of God is channeled to Creation, we can see two options. One is direct:

God -----loves-----> each creature individually.

The other is that love is indirect, so that one creature can experience something of God's love via another creature (humans), and humans can experience what it is to love as well as be-loved.

God -----loves---via---humans-----> all creatures.

Such that when trees, for example, experience humans they experience something of God and especially God's love. When trees experience the Presence of God they (metaphorically) clap their hands [Psalm]. So maybe they should clap their hands when they experience humans. Maybe that is God's Plan. For such a plan to work, it requires that in at least (agape) love, and maybe in some other ways, humans are like God.

This actually ties in with the other part of verses 26, 28 in a way that the other 'Why's do not: God gave human beings "rule over" (radah) the rest of creation. As I have argued elsewhere, this radah is not so that the rest of creation can serve humanity but so that humanity can serve the rest of creation. As I have remarked elsewhere, shepherds are in charge of the sheep, but shepherds are there for the sake of the sheep, not sheep for the sake of shepherds.

This page, URL= '', is on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden dates below, but you may use this material subject to fairly liberal conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext, in the style of Classic HTML.

Created: 12 August 2018, then finished 20 November 2019. Last updated: