On Humankind in the Image of God (imago Dei)
God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.(1)
The Genesis story of the creation of humankind embodies two conspicuous elements.
The more prominent (obvious!) is that God, as Creator, establishes the relationship between divinity and humanity.
The second is that humankind, as created, is created to respond to God; to be in a dialogical relationship with God. To put this another way, to be human is to be aware, to know that we are created to answer God.
Answering God means something more than reacting to God.
I react (re- “again” + act) when I am affected by an external force or stimulus and respond.
I touch a hot stove and, feeling pain, reflexively, pull my hand away…
I gaze into the star-lit sky and, in awe, my eyes widen and my mouth falls agape…
I walk through the woods and, in the distance, behold a brown bear, which, trailed by two cubs, I assume is the mother bear and, fearful, having invaded their territory and seeking safety, slowly back away, retracing my steps.
In each of these examples, I react. However, my essential nature, who and what I am, is unchanged.(2)
I answer (an- “in front of” + swer- “to swear” or “to declare”) by responding to (“in front of”) you to the word you have spoken to me. To answer you, I must understand the meaning of your message. Even more, to understand your message, indeed, to understand you (who, by your very nature, are “other” to me as I, by my very nature, am “other” to you) involves a transformation, a change in my individual way of thinking and feeling, perceiving and reasoning.
So, I believe, it is in our human dialogical relationship with God, which is rooted in our being made in God’s image.
Other than human beings, no other creature can respond to God, can answer a word of/from God.(3) We human beings are the only creatures who can appropriate and apply God’s word to the conduct of our lives, and, thus, in freewill, take part in our transformation.
(1) Genesis 1.26a, 27a
(2) I remain unchanged, assuming, in regard to my third example, that the mother bear doesn’t chase me down and dismember me!
(3) God’s word is and can be spoken through a variety, aye, infinite ways; among them, through the Bible, in prayer, through dreams and visions, in nature, through another person (whether a preacher, a prophet, a family member or a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger, even an enemy), and through the voice of one’s conscience.
Illustration: The Creation of Adam (Creazione di Adamo) (1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564)