What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Genesis 1:26 says:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'”
So does this mean we look like God? Is it that we rule like God? What things do you think of when you have to answer what it means to be made in the image of God? Perhaps it’s a list of attributes like: intelligence, emotion, free-will, reasoning ability, creativity. I’ve often thought of these things myself – never really coming to a conclusion.
If it’s any one of these, which ones? Can’t be emotion… my cats feel emotion. Can’t be intelligence… I’ve seen some pretty intelligent gorillas. Maybe a combination of attributes? Which ones?
Michael S. Heiser has written a book called The Unseen Realm that has given me plenty of food for thought on all kinds of subjects, but this subject in particular. In it he states that if we have a list of attributes that define how we are made in the image of God, we must give up on the idea of being pro-life and valuing the sanctity of every human life at the moment of conception. If we truly believe human life begins at the moment of conception, how does that list of attributes apply in those early days of life? They have no intelligence, self-awareness, or creativity. They can’t. That baby is still being formed.
If we say there is the potential for creativity, reasoning ability, or intelligence, we may actually be arguing a pro-choice point of view – that a potential person is not an actual person. So where does that leave us?
Heiser gives a description of the various ways “in” can be translated in the English language. It can indicate a location – “put the dishes in the sink.” It can indicate a result – “I broke the mirror in pieces.” Or it can indicate that I am something – “I work in education.” In other words I work as a teacher, a principal, etc. (The Unseen Realm, pg 42)
It’s this last example that Heiser says that the original Hebrew should be translated into. We are created as God’s image. “If we think of imaging as a verb or function, that translation makes sense. We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God.” (The Unseen Realm, pg 42-43)
Genesis 1:28 then tells God’s imagers that they are to be fruitful and multiply and then take His kingdom to the ends of the earth. Finally, that seems to make the most sense to me! To be created in the image of God is to be His representative on earth – to be created as His image on earth – to reflect His light to those around me.