What is the “Image of God”?


“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” ―George R.R.Martin, A Game of Thrones


At the point of crisis, you have to decide which way to go. I’m told that the Chinese ideograph for “crisis” is made up of two smaller ones. They are “danger” and “opportunity.” That is to say, for example, a crisis of fear creates an opportunity for bravery.

But there’s still danger there, and that’s the problem. Quite often, we are far more aware of our inadequacies than of our strengths, aren’t we? That’s because we live on the inside, where no one else can go. We know what we’re really like. Even when we’ve done well at something, there’s a default False Modesty program that kicks in  and we start self-depreciating. “Oh, I’m not that good really.”

Of course it is childish to brag, to claim more than you are.

But it’s also foolish to compare, to run yourself down because of someone else’s ability.

This is you we’re talking about just now.

The Bible tells us to “have a sane estimate of yourself.” We need a balanced perspective of ourselves.

So who are we, according to the Bible?

The very first thing about us, the Bible insists, is that we are created. Genesis 1 is a song of great simplicity and beauty, describing humanity’s place in the whole context of the cosmos.

In Psalm 139, we read a much later lyrical interpretation of the same event, from what might be called an insider perspective!

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.

You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.” (Psalm 139)

The Psalmist takes it further. I am not just constructed, like an expensive clock, and set ticking on the shelf; I am conceived, birthed and parented, and the One who made me knows me completely. So I am not just created, but -in a rather old-fashioned word- I am contingent. The Genesis picture is of God breathing life into us. Death is when the breath is taken away. His life is in us. We’re completely dependent on him for every second of every day.

His life and our life are inextricably connected. The connection is not quantitative (like comparing a cup of water to an ocean, or a balloon full of air to a hurricane) but qualitative, like the connection between father and son.

We are made in the image of God.

A father-son connection means sharing DNA,  being unique different and yet inheriting characteristics and personality traits.

Who is the God in whose image you were created?

He is eternal. And  you are also built for eternity, for  God has “set eternity in  your heart.” It’s part of your DNA. Your real self, your Inner You is built to live for ever.

He is moral. It may be an odd word to use, but I think it’s the right one. If creation is described as “good” then that is a reflection of the Creator too. He is holy, and just and fair. “Shall not the judge of the earth do right?”asked Abraham. And the answer was Yes!

And that is part of the image of God implanted in us. We understand the concept of right and wrong. Even if people refuse to have anything to do with God, they still insist on fairness in business dealings, and complain about political corruption.

Our intrinsic morality derives from the one who made us that way. Even if we identify ourselves as bad means that we recognise the spectrum of morality upon which we have made such a poor showing.

And this is where it gets interesting. Our morality is also contingent. Just as our life can only exist when breath comes into our body, so morality can only exist when God breathes into our thinking processes.

And eternity and morality are limitless. How could they be? How can there be limitations on holiness and love?

And if that describes the life of God, then it also describes the life if His people. This one thought creates the limitless possibilities of the image of God.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson



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