What does it mean to be made in God’s image?
The concept of imago dei (“image of God” in Latin) comes from the beginning of Genesis in one of the creation stories. God makes people on the sixth day in God’s image. But what does this really mean?
I am back at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) this week doing some continuing education with my colleagues and former classmates. We spent time with one of VTS’s professors of Hebrew Scripture Stephen Cook (whose website is found here).
Using the Book of Job, Dr. Cook guided us through a discussion about the nature of God. Job is an interested book because it gives us a glimpse into God’s internal nature. Job is a pious, upright dude, and “the accuser” asks God if God thinks that Job would continue to be in relationship with God if he had no economic motivation to do so…if being in relationship to God promised no friends, family, physical health, or prosperity.
This struggle is one we all experience in our personal relationships. Are our friends, spouses, and even family members motivated to be in relationship with us for economic or other reasons? Does love…true love…really exist?
Among other things, the story of Job reveals that God experiences this same kind of aloneness that we do—desperately wanting to authentically be known and loved by others, but needing to make room for other “selves” to exist.
Have you ever met that person who is extremely self-assured and bulldozes everyone in close proximity? People like this are self-defined, but they are hardly self-differentiated—they struggle to both be themselves and let other selves exist at the same time.
Job suggests that God is self-differentiated and makes room for us to become more fully ourselves, perhaps hoping that we will seek to be in relationship with God without the promise of any economic advantage. In this case, the imago dei may be in experiencing an internal aloneness that longs for relationship.
Perhaps being made in God’s image is more practice than appearance. Maybe we’re like God in that we are ultimately alone inside ourselves but gifted with the ability to relate to others in ways that affirm our individuality while embracing the individuality of others.
In our aloneness we question the existence of true love, but maybe our question shouldn’t be, “Does true love exist?” Maybe our question instead should be, “Does anything else?” What would it be like to prioritize relationship with others and God above relationship with possessions, power, or prestige? If we believe that those things don’t exist eternally, as love truly does, why bother?
Consider what it means to be made in God’s image; as you ponder this, so will I.
The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is BowingToMystery.com.
Image: “Job” by Léon Bonnat is licensed by CC BY 2.0