We’re exploring what it means to be in the image of God. The context of Gen 1.26-27 makes it pretty clear that the image includes our dominion over the earth. And as we saw last time, we are persons, like God, and fundamentally different from the animals. But is there even more to it than that?
Well, thanks for asking.
I think there’s another way that we’re in God’s image, but it’s not something we can deduce from the Creation account, or even from our logical processes.
We’re going to need the New Testament for this one.
In Genesis 1, we notice that God’s name—Elohim—is plural, and we also notice that when he’s anticipating making man, he speaks to himself in the plural: “Let us make man” (Gen 1.26). That makes us go, “Hmm,” but it’s not enough evidence to develop a robust view of the Trinity. It’s the New Testament that provides that evidence.
I don’t intend to review all that evidence here—it’s available in lots of other places—but suffice it to say that with a completed Scripture we know that the one God exists in three distinct but not separated entities, or persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since God is both eternal—he has always existed (Ps 90.2)—and immutable—he has never changed (Ps 102.26-27; Jas 1.17)—we know that God has always existed in these three persons.
God has always been in relationship. The relationship among these three persons is not exactly the same as our relationships with other humans—God is One, after all, and the Three are united far more perfectly and essentially than any two ordinary humans—but the fact remains that being relational is an essential, definitional part of who God is. He has never been alone.
A medieval church father, Richard of St. Victor—admittedly not one of the more well-known fathers—argued that if God is love, he has always been love; and if so, then he must always have had someone to love—for how can there be love if no other person exists? On this basis he argued that since only God is eternal, God must exist eternally in more than one person, and that thought in turn formed the basis of his argument for the deity of Christ—indeed for the Trinity itself.
He was right, of course.
So if God has always been in relationship, then it shouldn’t surprise us at all when he says, “It is not good that the man [in my image] should be alone” (Gen 2.18). As I’ve noted earlier in this series, God graciously allows Adam to realize his need for companionship before he gives it to him; and when he sees his match for the first time, he speaks (extemporaneously!) in poetry:
“This is bone of my bone
And flesh of my flesh!”
In other words, “This one is like me! This one is for me!”
We can imagine his joy at being, like his creator, in relationship.
Now, some caveats.
First, our Creator is creative, and he makes everyone different. While we all need social interaction, we don’t all need or approach it in the same way. Some of us thrive on social interaction; some of us are drained by it and need some alone time to recharge. The former we call extroverts; the latter we call introverts. We need to respect and appreciate one another’s differences in this regard; introverts are not “less” in the image of God than extroverts. There’s been a lot written on this; we would do well to learn about those differences so that we can be social responsibly.
Second, there are many kinds of social relationship. For most people, their primary relationship is with their spouse. But God has not ordained that life for everyone; many are called to be single. We should note that they are in the will of God, and the image of God, as well; no life lived in the will of God is a deficient one.
The social aspect of the image of God is a delightful gift. Of course not all relationships go well, and sometimes we’re tempted to just let go of all the drama and keep to ourselves. But we must not choose that as a lifestyle; we are here to image our Creator, and we need to represent him well.
To begin this series I noted that there are at least two ways that creation theology changes the way we think and live. The first is the image of God; in the next few posts we’ll consider the second.