"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."--Genesis 1:27
What exactly does it mean to be made in the image of God? In the past months I have become increasingly appreciative of God's complete otherness. It is something that necessarily effects everything we do, especially in the development of our theology. And so, I recently posted the following on twitter: "To be able to understand anything, we need a healthy grasp of God's
distinctness as Creator. He is not like us, or anything that is made." What I was referring to was this vast difference between God and man that exists because He is the Creator and we are His creatures.
In response, a friend commented on Facebook regarding our being made in God's image. He was alluding to what we all know and feel, that in some way or other we are like God. If we are made in His likeness, how "other" can He really be? Here is how I think about the issue.
In relation to the rest of creation, we are unique in that we bear His image. No other animal or created thing can boast of this. So, we are set apart from everything else in the universe, which explains my friend's comment and concern to defend our being in some way special. We all sense this privilege. Nobody ever looked at their dog and thought, "wow, it's amazing the things you have accomplished!" After all, there is quite a bit of difference between being able to roll over and being able to design and send a rover to Mars. Here, we see that we resemble our Creator, not simply because we are created, but because He has indeed made us like Him.
In relation to God, however, the image-bearing is unidirectional. Since God is the only ontologically independent being in the universe, there is nothing else like Him. Really, there are only two categories of beings, those that were created, and those that weren't. We, along with the rest of creation, find ourselves in the former category, while God alone lives in the latter. That's a pretty big deal, which was what I was trying to get at in my previously mentioned tweet. Even though we are made in His image, we will always be different because we are created. Our perspective is limited to the finite and temporal, for example, while God's perspective, in a way we can't and probably won't ever completely understand, is free from the restraints of time and space, and infinitely so.
All that to say that even though we are made in His likeness, we aren't completely like Him. Or, to say it differently, even though we bear His image, to look at a man is not the same thing as to look at God. We can look at the creativity of humans and conclude that God must be creative Himself, but in seeing our creativity, it isn't the same exact creativity that God uses. Ours is but the faintest semblance, but a true resemblance nonetheless.
The exact nature of our image bearing has long been disputed. Many have defined it according to our intellect, emotion, and will. And, it's true, the combination of these three things doesn't exist in the animal world, at least not to the same extent as in humans. But, it seems that dominion must play a part, since, directly after the creation of the first man and woman, God gave them dominion over the entire earth. That would explain our unique giftedness in herding the rest of creation, at least. Also, our creativity must play a role, for no other creature uses their natural faculties to freely explore and create like humans do. Personality should probably play a part as well. In short, it's difficult to pin down exactly what our being created in God's consists in.
However, one idea that has helped my growing understanding of this subject has been this: We are made in the image of God, and we "image" God. This covers how God's image is manifested in us in both what we are, and what we do. This gives us a bit more robust understanding of image bearing, and allows us to appreciate the likeness of God that exists in every human being simply because they exist, while at the same time seeing that likeness not only in their human-ness, but also in what they do with that human-ness. In other words, I'm not just an image bearer because I'm human in substance, but because being human, I necessarily do things that "image" God.
At any rate, it is extremely humbling to think that God created mankind in His image. Even if there is a great distinction between the Creator and creature (Isaiah 55:8-9), still we do resemble Him (James 3:9). And, there is a great responsibility that comes with being made in His likeness. We are not only born bearing His image, but we also "image" him in everything we do. That means that as I go about my business, I need to be asking myself, "how is what I'm doing reflecting, or, 'imaging', my Creator?"