In the post of May 1, 2021, “Made Like God,” we discussed ways in which humans exhibited the image of God in their unity and equality of being and of calling, and in their relationship and communication.
We will now turn to those ways that humans were made in the image of God which I have categorized as “internal,” or related to character qualities as opposed to functions. What characteristics or qualities might we share with God by virtue of being made in his image?
As finite beings, humans will not share in even the communicable (shareable) attributes of God to the same extent that God has those attributes. For example, God is love (1 John 4:8). Humans can love, but we do so imperfectly. God is also just. Humans have a sense of justice and can carry out justice but, again, do so imperfectly. God is Creator. Humans are creative, but we cannot create ex nihilo as God has.
God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable
"God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness and truth." This is the formulation provided by the Westminster Confession of Faith Shorter Catechism Question 4. It is a brief listing of God’s characteristics and a good basis for beginning to identify the ways in which humans were made to reflect the image of God. We are further aided by the catechism in defining the ways in which human do share in the image of God: “in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures” (Question 10). Let’s look at these characteristics more specifically:
We are not infinite, eternal and unchangeable, although Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Otherwise, why would death be such a grief, such a wrenching, so foreign that our souls struggle to comprehend it? “I cannot believe he’s gone!” we cry. It is not so much a refusal to accept reality as it is a shock to souls who were created for a different reality--to live and not to die.
Being: Although we are not self-existent, God has given us true and significant being. It matters that you and I exist. There is meaning in being alive and continuing to live into the future. We have continuity of purpose in becoming more like Christ and fulfilling his purpose on this earth until we are finally brought into glorious oneness with Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the new heavens and earth.
Wisdom and knowledge: Humans were created with a capacity for wisdom, for gaining knowledge and applying it to their own lives, relationships and work. We desire it and seek for it. God graciously shares his wisdom with us directly through his creation and his Word and for Christians it is further illumined by his Spirit, and mediated through life experiences. It is by wisdom that we were to rule over creation, and indeed will rule the world and angels in the future age according to I Corinthians 6:2-3.
Power: God’s power means that He can do whatever He pleases; or, as the catechism also teaches, He can do all his holy will. God delegated and transmitted power to humans when He gave them the task of ruling and managing creation. They were to take the wisdom they acquired and put it into practice. This is capacity that is sometimes referred to as agency, the sense of being able to accomplish one’s desires. It is an appropriate exercise for humans to have a degree of self-determination, in concert with God’s will. It is unjust and cruel to take away that ability and instead to exercise oppressive control over the life of another human being.
Justice: Humans have an innate recognition of and desire for justice. We can tell when something is not fair and we are angered by that. We want to see it change. Even when that sense is distorted by selfishness or bias, or even intellectually denied, we still see it in operation. We were created to reflect that passion of God for the poor, the oppressed, the broken and sick.
Holiness: Our first parents walked in the presence of a Holy God. They cowered in fear from a Holy God. We have not forgotten that. Humans seek something transcendent, greater than themselves, for meaning and comfort. We strive to be greater, to achieve more. I believe that is partly because we know that something greater actually exists; and perhaps partly to make ourselves gods.
Goodness: Humans were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Every people group on earth has a set of morals and mores which reflect their notions of good and bad. Every person you encounter will have a sense of things that are "not fair." We rejoice when we see others doing good. We don’t always get it right, but we know it exists.
Truth: Do we have a north star to guide us through this life? Is there a certain truth that underlies all other knowledge? Yes, God has revealed it to us in his Word, and we have been given some capacity to comprehend it and live according to it. Without God's illumination, we will grope for it blindly, but still recognize that some things are true and some are false. Without that sense, communication, relationships, societies and justice are undermined.
For a limited time, humans reflected these qualities sinlessly. Now, just as the noxious smell of stale smoke insinuates itself into every curtain, book, and closet of a smoker’s house, sin has permeated every aspect of every human. And yet, the image of God predates and outlasts the fall, tainted but not obliterated. That is the basis of God's prohibition on murder--"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9:6). Therefore we dare not speak with dismissal, contempt or hate of any other human. We must acknowledge the worth of each person and honor them as image-bearers.
As we grow in Christ and are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in us (Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 3:18), we share in God’s communicable attributes in a more meaningful and perfected sense. When we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet we also still battle against our sinful natures and must learn “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24). It is in abiding in Christ that we can bear fruit (John 15:1–17). It is through the filling of the Holy Spirit that we exhibit characteristics like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). It is when we are in Christ that our love more closely resembles godly agape love and is less tainted by our own sinfulness.
We have lost the beautiful, pure and innocent nature through which we originally reflected the image of God. But in God's extravagance, He is remaking his people into something better than we deserve, exceeding even that original state