The whole concept of the Divine Image in humankind is central to understanding who humankind is according to the Bible. In our days when humankind is reduced to just a collection of atoms in the thoughts of many in secular society, we need to grasp afresh what the Bible says about the dignity of humankind. There are many aspects to this doctrine which cannot all be covered here but I want to highlight some important points which have a practical application to our daily lives.
Firstly we must notice that in Biblical teaching the image of God in humankind is not some abstract idea but rather a matter of relationship to God, one another and creation, I will explore these aspects in turn. Before that, however, it would be good to have the most important passage of Scripture on this topic in front of us.
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day
The New International Version. (2011). (Ge 1:27–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Humankind’s relationship to God: We are created to relate to God in a personal way, before the fall that fellowship of God and humans was uncorrupted. Since the fall, all humans have a fallen nature and we can only know restoration to the full image of God through the gracious act of salvation in Christ. Even after salvation has been received that restoration is only partial until we see the Lord in glory. But that does not take away from the fact that the primary purpose of our creation is to worship God. Worshipping God is not confined to singing a few praise songs but rather is the attitude of heart towards God, this can be expressed in our work life, in the way we relate to others, it is a matter of putting God and his ways as our first priority. This means that we need to relate to God through seeking his will in all things. Prayer then becomes a very important part of our relationship with God, prayer expresses our dependence upon God because prayer is not just about asking God for things but rather seeking his will for our entire life. Another way we express our dependence upon God is by reading his word and submitting to its teaching, this is vital if we are to grow more in our likeness of God. The reason this is so is that it is grounded in the relationship of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, we are to reflect in some poor way the fellowship of the three persons of the Godhead.
Humankind’s relationship to each other. We are told that humankind bears the image as it is both male and female, at once we see that if the image is to be reflected in this way we see that relationship between humans is important. Of course, first of all, that relationship applies to marriage but it is far wider than marriage, in fact, it applies to all our relationships. This why all our relationships should be one of respect and love, fallenness brings about hatred and violence, our life in Christ should bring about a reversal of this if we are seeking to be a reflection of who God is our relationships will be transformed.
This means that the Christian must reject all individualistic philosophies because they do not and cannot do adequate justice to the fact that by creation we are called to be in a relationship with one another. Individualism always tends to self-interest rather than seeking the interest of others. so much of Western thinking is individualistic and permeates our society, it is our emphasis on our rights that sometimes illustrates this, we talk about our rights and forget our obligations to one another.
The Christian will also reject all collectivist philosophies, such as Marxism with its emphasis on society and absolute equality, this leads to the repression of all that is individual and truly creative, we have seen this wherever Marxism has been tried.
In opposition to both of the philosophies the Christian view sees that because Humankind is made in the image of God there is a need to honour both the social and individual aspects of humankind, therefore we need to need to have a philosophy which sees that humans are individual-communal creatures. with this perspective, we can look at many issues affecting our societies with fresh eyes. It is not the place here to spell out all the implications of this here but let me just say that it would create a society in which justice and mercy are honoured.
Humankind’s relationship to Creation:The command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it has widely been misunderstood, this in no way gives permission to plunder the planet but rather it must be seen in its context as a command given before the fall. The context makes all the difference because unfallen man would have understood this as a command to care for God’s good creation. This whole concept of what is known as the cultural mandate shows that we have a responsibility for planet earth under the Lordship of Christ. This is not just a broad ecological statement but applies to our small part that we can play in creation care. We are to care for and nurture creation so that it can develop in a way that glorifies God. Our call is always in accordance with the principles of the Kingdom of God. Whether our cultural task is directly nurturing plants or animals or whether our calling is mainly to serve other human beings we can do all to the glory of God. The cultural mandate extends to making things, composing music, being a teacher or whatever other calling you can think of. In other words the whole of life is placed under the Lordship of Christ.