As I have struggled over the past several months with the implications of being created in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-28), I have also struggled to understand how we, as believers, have strayed from the original intent and understanding of this key passage. Certainly the invasion of Gnostic dualism has played a part, but I have come to the conclusion that, until we go back to a true understanding of God, we will never make peace with God’s image in us.
If our understanding of the nature of God is faulty, our understanding of ourselves will be faulty also. A faulty understanding of God will never create a true understanding of man. There is one key, which just came to mind as I was contemplating this topic, which certainly rings true in my own experience over the last fifty or so years. I am not bold and brash enough to claim that this is the ONLY key…only God knows for sure, but I believe it is a key…a clue.
God is Spirit…
Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well when He said: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). That passage should be straightforward enough, but where I believe it is tripping us up, is that we mentally add the word “only“. Do we, when we read this passage, read it as “God is ONLY Spirit“? That was the essence of what I was taught…
Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where God appeared to various people for intimate, relational encounters. The first of those encounters was in the Garden of Eden, where God walked and talked with Adam and Eve…person to person. (Genesis 2:8 and following) Did God merely “appear” to be a person? Was God communicating merely by “thought-transmission“?
The LORD appeared to Abraham, and ate supper with him, promised him a son, and told him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah…(Genesis 18)
Jacob wrestled with God, and saw His face…(Genesis 32:24-32)
When God appeared to Moses on the mountain, and hid Moses with His hand until He passed by, did God only “appear” to be a person? Moses was not allowed to see God’s “face“…(Exodus 33:18-23)
Theologians have tried to explain these “appearances” with high-sound names like “theophany“, but I believe what they are trying to do is “dis-embody” God. Are they also “de-personalizing” God?
Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses, and God called them in for a chat. What God told them was that He and Moses spoke “face-to-face“, and that Moses had “seen the form of the Lord“. (Numbers 12:6-8)
“The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand“…(Psalm 110)
Daniel had a vision of God, and in his vision, he saw “the Ancient of Days“…(Daniel 7:9-14)
Jesus, while talking to the religious leaders, said “And the Father Himself, who sent me, has testified of me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.” (John 5:37)
Stephen saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God“…(Acts 7:54-56)
In heaven, we shall see God’s face…(Revelation 22:4)
“Form“…”face“…”voice“… just figures of speech? I seriously doubt it, because these descriptions of God appear way too many time in Scripture to ignore.
Man is spirit…
What sets mankind apart from our biological and physiological “cousins” in the animal kingdom is our possession of a spirit, or a soul. After God formed that first man from the dust of the ground, He could have merely caused life to enter that man, but instead, God chose to breath His own breath into the man, endowing him with a part of Himself, giving him a soul…a spirit.
Man is not merely “just another animal“, and neither is he a “disembodied-spirit“. He is a union of a mortal body and an immortal spirit, which God intended to be united for all eternity, and indeed will unite…for all eternity, when we are raised from the dead in the resurrection.
If I had said “Man is ONLY spirit“, that would have contradicted everything we know from Scripture about humanity. If I had said “All that really counts is man’s spirit”, I would have played into Gnosticism’s heretical lie, but I don’t believe either of those lies.
Image and likeness…
When a couple conceives a child, they have reasonable expectations that the child will be in their “image and likeness“. Some of those expectations are:
1) Since they are human, the baby will also be human. Humans don’t give birth to animal babies.
2) The baby will be the same ethnicity as they are, and if it isn’t, the husband will have justifiable reason to believe his wife had sex with another man. If they are a bi-ethnic couple, the baby will still look like a mixture of both of them.
3) The baby’s hair and eye colors will match their own, or at least someone in their family line. (My first three children had blonde hair and blue eyes, as I do. My fourth had dark eyes and dark hair, like her mother. I certainly could not have “disowned” any of them as not being “mine“, because they all looked like they belonged to our family. They were MY children.)
4) The baby’s facial features will resemble one or both parents.
Have you ever seen a picture of a LARGE family, and noticed the strong family-resemblance? It isn’t “accidental“. That resemblance is part of God’s design.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Everything we do as humans, we do through the agency of our body. Our spirit experiences life in and through our body, and as we worship God, our spirit connects with God, as it directs our body to physically give Him praise, whether it is through song, prayer, or the spoken word. However, unless our spirit is engaged in worship, all we are doing is going through some form or ritual. It takes our whole being to adequately worship God.
What I am NOT suggesting is that God is a “divine-man“, however there is evidence to support the conclusion that God has some sort of physical form…which is described in masculine terms. A dis-embodied God is much easier for us to deal with, as is a disembodied Jesus. If God and Jesus are merely concepts…knowledge…gnosis, we need not have an real relationship with God. Indeed we can NOT have a relationship with God. All this gnosis…knowledge…can be formulated into neat “doctrines” and put on our theological shelf. Relationship requires person-hood.
What we DO know for fact, is that our Lord Jesus is in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, in His true human form. Our flesh and blood is at the right hand of God…as real…as human, as we are.
Are we willing to accept what God has said about Himself in His Word? If so, it must revolutionize how we see ourselves, as made in His “image and likeness“…body, soul and spirit, and we must quit calling what He called “very good“, something evil, something to be ashamed of.