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CFOT THEOLOGY COURSE | IMAGO DEI

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In the CFOT Theology course the first year cadets, The Proclaimers of the Resurrection, have been asked to give consideration to Salvation Army Doctrine #5, Genesis 1:26, 27 and the movie The Elephant Man, and articulate a theological understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God.

The following essay is by Cadet David Hickman.

God intends to make clear right from the very beginning of the Bible that the pinnacle of His creation is humanity. God wants to make it known that His human creation is distinctly special and unique, unlike any of the creatures He has created thus far. In the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1:26,27 we read: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them.” This precedent setting Biblical truth has enormous ramifications on how we need to view not only ourselves but each member of the human race. But what does it actually mean to be created in the image of God and yet still have the capacity to sin? This essay will explore this theologically profound subject with the hope of illuminating our understanding of this doctrine of Imago Dei or Creation in God’s image.

            When we think of being created in the image of something our minds naturally gravitate to the outward physical resemblance that the two items would have. We think of how in some cases children are born with a physical resemblance to one of their parents, and we hear people exclaim:  “You are a spitting image of your father, or you are a mirror image of your mother”. However being created in the image of God does not infer that we outwardly reflect what God physically looks like but instead that we have been endowed as a human race with certain privileges that no other created creature possesses. “In the Biblical account of creation, only humanity is said to be created in the image and likeness of God. This has been interpreted in various ways which include the human capacity for knowledge, moral awareness, original moral perfection, immortality and the ability to share in fellowship with God.”[1]  Let us briefly examine each of these various interpretations, some of which are traits unique to humanity. This will help us in being able to distinguish ourselves as distinctly separate from the rest of God’s creation, and will also shed light in our understanding of how we are made in the Image of God but yet have the capacity to sin.

Human capacity for knowledge          One only has to take a brief survey around his/her surroundings to see that we as humans have an enormous capacity for knowledge. This is seen in every constructed thing, whether it be a building, a computer, camera etc.; the knowledge that would have been required to create any one of these things is vast, and yet each of us, with the exception of those with certain mental disabilities, is endowed with this capacity.  The Image of God is said to be reflected in our human capacity for knowledge in that we as humans have each been gifted with a brain that is capable of accumulating vast amounts of knowledge and information. We are further endowed with the ability to use this information and knowledge to come to a rational decision to a situation which requires us to make a choice. But what is the ultimate purpose in God creating this human capacity for knowledge in each one of us? Is it just so that we can continue to create new innovations that make our lives so much easier or comfortable or is there some greater purpose to this God given ability? Ultimately, I feel that God has given us the capacity for knowledge and rationalization in order that we might come to know Him in a very real and personal way, and that we may use our brains and their enormous capacity to seek God and to find Him in our everyday existence here on His creation, and to strive to become more like Him.

Moral Awareness        The image of God is reflected in our moral awareness, or in other words the working of our conscience; which is embedded in each individual of the human race. Moral awareness can be seen as an inherent instinctual knowledge of good and evil. This is seen particularly in children who have yet to be taught about right or wrong but just know instinctually when they have done something they should not have. This moral awareness was given, by God, alongside the capacity for knowledge to aid us in making the right decisions and choosing the right actions towards one another, towards God, and towards His creation. God has given us these complimentary gifts of our capacity for knowledge, and our moral awareness to help us in the making the decision as to whether we will choose to Love Him freely or to reject Him. This is where it is most plainly seen that we are created in the image of God and are yet sinful. God has given us the capacity and the freedom to choose wilfully. Sin arises from an abuse of the human free will. Sin is prevalent in this world, and temptation abounds but it is a road that does not have to be taken.[2] God has equipped, us through creating us in His image, with the means to resist temptation, and to live a life free from sin; but we must freely choose to trust God’s goodness and grace.

Furthermore, God intended us to use our capacity for knowledge and moral awareness to be “good stewards on earth: to use responsibly and wisely, protect and care for, creation’s resources.”[3] “We were created to stand in a unique position within creation and before God as his stewards, responsible to him. We were created to mould, develop and care for all that God has made on earth.”[4] “The image of God, in which humanity is made, is set in relation to the exercise of dominion over the earth on God’s behalf.”[5] Although we are endowed with these God given abilities it is our privilege as humanity to freely choose as to whether we are going to exercise these gifts. This is portrayed in the movie The Elephant Man in which a severely physically deformed man was treated in quite polar extremes by humanity. There were those who saw him as a human deserving dignity and there were those who choose to treat him as if he were sub-human, or some type of animal. Those that treated him with dignity were embracing their choice to use their God given moral awareness, and those who treated this man as a beast were choosing to reject their God given moral awareness that comes with being created in the image of God.

Original Moral Perfection       Imago Dei or the Image of God is often used to describe the original dignity or original moral perfection that was humanities reality prior to the fall of Adam and Eve. We are made in the image of God and are intended to reflect His glory both in our individual lives, in our relationships and in society.[6] However, this we fail to do; as the common experience of humanity is that sin is at the centre of one’s being, and that it affects the total person-body, mind and spirit.[7] God intended that our initial or original moral perfection was to continue for eternity, but “He made us free, wanting us to love Him voluntarily.”[8] “The Bible describes and interprets the vast difference between our intended nature and its flawed reality.”[9] “God’s intention was that we would live in a state of love and harmony with Him, with one another, and with the rest of creation.”[10] But all is not lost, through the provision of His one and only son Jesus, as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world the opportunity and the means of living in moral perfection once again are attainable for those who would seek the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind.

Immortality     We acknowledge that God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; and that He lives for eternity. The image of God can therefore be seen in human creation due to the belief of the immortality of the human soul. God is everlasting, and as Christians we believe that death is not the end of our existence, as our time on earth is just preparing us for eternity in either His presence or away from His presence.

Share fellowship with God     The image of God can be seen in the fact that “only to humanity does God speak directly. Humanity alone receives from God this divine vocation.”[11] “The concept of Imago Dei is fundamentally relational, or covenantal, and takes as its ground and focus the graciousness of God’s own covenantal relations with humanity and the rest of creation.”[12] “Humanity is created uniquely in relationship to God and finds itself as a result of creation in covenant with God.”[13] “Ahanasius taught that God created human beings in the “image of God,” thus endowing humanity with a capacity which was granted to no other creature- that of being able to relate to and partake in the life of God.”[14] We were created in the image of God so that we could share in fellowship with Him, to live in relationship and constant communion with Him.

Through the exploration of these five various ways in which the image of God in humans has been interpreted we see that “Humanity thus stands in an ambivalent position-living in solidarity with the rest of the created order and yet distinct from it on account of humankind’s unique role as the bearer of the divine image, called to a particular and crucial relationship with Yahweh and yet not divine.”[15] “The distinguishing mark of human existence when compared with other creatures is thus the whole of human existence (and not some “part” of the individual).”[16] The imago Dei tradition, the uniqueness of humanity in comparison to all other creatures, “does not locate this singularity in the human possession of a “soul,” but in the human capacity to relate to Yahweh as covenant partner, and to join in companionship within the human family and in relation to the whole cosmos in ways that reflect the covenant love of God.”[17]

One cannot nail down one particular characteristic or trait that singularly defines us as being created in the divine image of God. Through researching this topic is serves to “remind us that creation in the image of God is a theological statement about the whole of humanity- and not only regarding those who lived “in the beginning,” nor narrowly defined as those who would later be called out as God’s people. Inside and outside Israel, and the church, we encounter people, all of whom “are made in the likeness of God.”[18] Your physical appearance has nothing to do with whether or not you are made in the image of God, no matter how deformed your body may be, such as the body of the gentleman in The Elephant Man we are all created in God’s image. Sin is a part of this world in which we live, and even though we are made in the image of God, He has given us the freedom to choose as to whether we embrace that image or whether we choose to ignore it and live a sinful life.

For References and Bibliography, click here.

Cadet David Hickman, and his wife Laura, are a part of the Proclaimers of the Resurrection session.  Before coming to CFOT, David worked at the Ferrero Manufacturing plant but I don’t think any samples came to CFOT with him!