Imago Dei, or being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), has several understandings. Here’s three of them:
- We are created in the image of God in what we are, in that our physical body or the ways our minds work is like God’s (Substantive)
- We are created in the image of God in how we are, in that our ability to relate to one another is like how God relates to us (Relational)
- We are created in the image of God in what we do, in that our actions on earth bear the image of God. (Functional)
The third one (functional) is the least familiar to people, I’m sure. But it is the subject of this post. It is when we act in Godlike ways that we are Imago Dei.
Think about ancient times when kingdoms would expand and thrive. The king or lord could not be everyplace at once, but the people needed to be reminded of his (yes, his) presence. Lacking Elvis impersonators, they would erect statues or monuments to either the king or the pagan god that the king represented. Thus, even when the king was not in town, the statues represented the royal presence. The statues were imago dei, created in the image of the town’s lord.
- Why else would conquering armies destroy the monuments first thing?
- Why else would America get such a thrill out of toppling the statue of Saddam in the first week of the war in Iraq?
This understanding of imago dei means that humanity bears the likeness of God. We don’t lug around monuments, we bear the image of God in what we do.
We are not created in the image of God, but we are created as God’s image as we represent God to the world.
In other words, we represent God in what we do, not just in our essence.
And how do we best represent God? I think we have a pretty good image to imitate:
- When we love our neighbor as ourself, then we are bearing God’s image.
- When we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, then we are bearing God’s image.
- When we co-create peace and justice, then we are bearing God’s image.
The difficulty? It feels imperialistic. Like an army bearing their lord’s image into battle, or a colonial town that needs an image of Britain, America, or Russia in their midst. But to me these difficulties do not detract from the empowering idea that
- Humanity is a co-creator with God,
- that we need to be a functional part of God drawing creation to perfection
- …and that we are humbly created, like all of the world, but with the added responsibility (“dominion” Genesis 1:26) to bear God’s likeness in all we do.
Welcome to our visitors, and thank you for commenting! You can see from our last discussion that they can be quite lively!
Caveat: The title of this post is meant to be evocative, not descriptive of my beliefs. Imago Dei certainly entails all three forms of its understanding, not just one. This post is an attempt to etch out the functional view in ways that may be appealing to those interested in Hacking Christianity.
Reference: Stephen Garner’s Hacking the Divine (thoughts on which you will find much more of in coming weeks!)