Made in the Image of God
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Genesis is a book that Christians believe to be inspired by God, and is a recount of how the universe was created ex nihilo by God. At the end of the creation of the world, He makes the summit, man and woman. Before this though, He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Man’s status is to be in God’s image. Plus, not only are men and women made in the image of God, but them as a couple is also an image of God.
Pope Francis I said, “the image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together.” Also, since man is in the image of God, his role in the universe is very different than God’s other creations. He is to be the steward of all creation and needs to use it for good. Man has a great status and role in the universe, and that is because he, both as a person and in marriage, is in the image of God and because of all this, he needs to use creation properly.
The greatest feature of man that resembles God is the spirit. God is a Spirit, so man’s spirit is an incredible “image” of God. The spirit’s two chief faculties are his intellect and will, and these two faculties are “other aspects of the divine image”. For example, animals do not have the ability to use their intellect and willfully decide to do something. They simply go by instinct. Man on the other hand is able to think something through, and make a decision. He has free will.
Man also has the ability to have a relationship with God. Only he can pray; nothing else in creation was given that gift. Some time ago, I learned that St. Augustine is purported to have once said that man talks to God through prayer, and God talks to man when he reads Sacred Scripture. All other creatures are not able to do such an incredible feat, but man has been given that privilege. He can only do this because he is a kind of “reproduction” of God.
There is another dimension to man being in the image of God, and that is when he is together with a woman in marriage. Pope Francis I said, “the image of God is not only borne by individuals but is also expressed through man and woman as a couple.” Because marriage is in the image of God, it is considered a covenant (Ezek 16:8 and Mal 2:14), meaning a family bond, established by an oath, and entailing mutual obligations. Pope Francis I again said, “God’s covenant with us is represented in that covenant between man and woman. And this is very beautiful.” The obligations between man and woman are found all the way back in Genesis. That “man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
St. Paul expounds this teaching, all the way in the New Testament saying, “Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church” (Ephesians 5:28-29). They are to be caring for one another also; “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). They are to be reproductive, filling the earth with inhabitants: “and God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen 1:28).
Adam and Eve obviously follow this idea, their children being Cain in Genesis 4:1, Abel in Genesis 4:2, Seth in Genesis 5:3, and “other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:4). As the Catechism puts it, “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” In order for this to happen as the Catechism says, couples would need these obligations.
Because marriage is in the image of God and effects man’s status in the universe, it will come as no surprise to us that almost whenever the New Testament talks about marriage, it refers back to Genesis. For example, Jesus does this in Mark’s Gospel, saying,
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder’” (Mk 10:6-9).
Jesus gave a Divine commentary of Genesis here. He says that they are no longer two but one flesh, and that what God has joined together, no man should destroy. Why does Jesus quote from Genesis when He, as the God-man, could simply say whatever He wants about marriage? It is because marriage has already been designed by Him as a Covenant, with mutual obligations and in His image, way back in the beginning, in Genesis.
Something else of man in the image of God, is not only man and woman together in marriage, but also as a family. Because they are in the image of God, they also resemble the Trinity. Let’s explore this. God is a Trinity, composed of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now, the Holy Spirit is often called the “love between the Father and the Son.” The Father and the Son eternally “conspirate” the Holy Spirit.
There is a striking parallel in this, and that is the family. When a family first begins, there is a father, a mother and a child – three persons. You could probably say that the love between the father and the mother produced the child. “From the image of the natural family, then, we can infer that God, in the mystery of his inner life, is a community of persons united by a bond of love and shared life (cf. John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem 7).” This Divine mystery is just another example of God’s magnificence.
God has given man a great role in his creation, and that is why he told him to “subdue” the earth. He is to have dominion over it, but this does not mean that the earth is his personal “play toy” and that he can treat it whatever way he wants. On the contrary, he is to use it to: help him grow civilization – using its resources to build up and help support his family; to protect it, by not doing harmful things to it; to enjoy it, by playing it its rivers and open fields; to love it; and to manage it appropriately. Man has all of this responsibility precisely because he is in God’s image.
Man is created in God’s image, and because of this, he has been “singled out” to be the one closest to God. Similarly, man and woman together in marriage is truly a Divine Masterpiece, as the Pope says that they are in the image of God also. They have incredible obligations, and while fulfilling one of those obligations, “be fruitful and multiply”, they also become an image of the Trinity! All of this stems from man being in the image of God, also called, Imago Dei. He has been given the job of being the steward of God’s creation, and hence must do all in his power to protect and use it correctly.
Is not it also interesting how Jesus is called the “image of the invisible God” and we are made in the image of God? Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch say, “Although man was created in God’s image, something more is said of Christ, who is that image in the most perfect sense (2 Cor 4:4; Heb 1:3).” This could mean that, because what Adam did by sin, it damaged his initial image of God from the beginning, and because of that, we all inherit that from him. But now, with the coming of God’s beloved son who is His image in the most perfect sense, our own image of God has now been restored by Christ.
St. Paul said, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son” (Rom. 8:28-29). What a blessing we have been given.