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God’s image in us.
A brief word on the image of God which is stamped upon the souls of every human being.
An essential element within the biblical account of creation to ponder and process is the Godhead’s announcement that man would be made in “the image of God.” “Then God said, ’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26–27). Only human beings bear the designation of being creatures made in God’s image. How one understands that image will greatly impact how one treats their fellow human beings (cf. Gen. 9:6).
The doctrine of God’s image in man is, of course, one which presents the student of theology with an important query: What does it mean that man is created in God’s image? In his work Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson identifies and explains three views for understanding what that image entails. In the substantive view, God’s image composed of certain qualities that reside within human nature itself. Historically, this has often been identified with mankind’s ability to reason and his capacity to be an intellectual being. In a post-Genesis 3 world, that image remains, but is only a mere relic of what God originally had in mind (such is the view that Luther and Calvin espoused, as Erickson notes, 462–63).
The relational view, however, maintains that God’s image is experienced when human beings relate to one another, and, especially, when they relate with God. Accordingly, the image of God is a dynamic reality. “The image,” Erickson writes, “is not an entity that a human possesses so much as the experience that is present when a relationship is active” (465). Many modern theologians would affirm this perspective, including the late Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. Thirdly, and lastly, the functional view insists that God’s image in man is chiefly seen in something that humans do. “As God is the Lord over all of creation,” Erickson says, “humans reflect the image of God by exercising dominion over the rest of the creation. The image of God is actually an image of God as Lord” (466). God’s image, then, is not a characteristic or a relationship, but is the paradigm in which man practices dominion over creation (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:5–8).
These three perspectives being recorded, Erickson proceeds into a brief evaluation of each. What is lacking, however, is his own convictions on the matter. In many ways, there is biblical evidence for the image of God being made up of elements of all three of the aforementioned views. The student of theology ought not skew towards one at the expense of the others, but should see components of each having a role in the image of God which is stamped upon the souls of every human being. The doctrine of God’s image appears in another passage in the Gospels, though in subtle fashion.
In Mark 12, when Jesus is examining the coin which is brought to him during his brief excursion on taxes, the Lord draws attention as to whose “image and inscription” the coin conveyed. The word “image” (Mark 12:16) is the Greek term eikōn, which means “figure, or likeness.” It is the same term which appears in the LXX translation of Genesis 1:26–27. Human beings, then, as the bearers of the Creator’s “image and likeness” exist as the tokens of the Creator’s love. Consequently, the image-bearers most resemble the Image-Maker when they are serving others in love. Such is the proper efficacy for those who have been indented with eternity (Eccl. 3:11).
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).