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Made In The Image Of God

Updated on December 26, 2011


On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel God brings Adam to life with the touch of fingertip to fingertip: an interesting choice by artist Michelangelo. In Genesis 1, for each step of creation God first speaks his intentions, then creation occurs. This narrative doesn’t identify the mechanism by which He brings into existence light itself, the sun and stars, land, birds, fish, animals, and finally human beings, unless His speech itself birthed our world. Some think it did. Genesis 2 describes a two step process: first forming the man from dust, then animating Adam by breathing into him. Perhaps Michelangelo found both speech and breath too insubstantial to paint, and so represents the beginning of conscious human life with a touch.


In whatever way He created us, we are unique. Genesis describes only humans in all of creation as being made “in His image.” What does this mean? First of all, what does it exclude? Land animals, birds and fish are all excluded. So are phenomena of nature such as the sun, moon and stars, the Northern Lights, storms, and waterfalls. Inheritors of Western monotheism may take these for granted, but polytheists and nature religions deified most of the list. 


Most interesting, scripture never describes angels as bearing His image. They are called “sons of God,” and in many ways they resemble God more than we do. Those who did not join Satan’s rebellion are sinless, still perfect. They live in heaven. They are immortal, stronger than us, and not bound by the physical limitations of our existence. What do human beings have that differentiates us from these heavenly beings, which make us more like God than they are?


For all the human fascination with angels, scripture gives only hints about their nature. This past summer our family read a novel called “Angelology” aloud, a story about a fictitious secret society which studies angels both fallen and unfallen. The author presented her angels lacking emotions. I found that strange, but then thinking back over scripture I could come up with only one instance of an emotion attributed to angels. “…All the sons of God shouted for joy” when they witnessed God’s creation of the Earth in Job 38. Angels do and say quite a bit, but if they feel things the Bible doesn’t tell us.

God by contrast is a highly emotional figure. He experiences grief, regret, anger, jealousy, love and joy. God called David “a man after my own heart,” and even a cursory reading David’s poetry reveals his deep emotionality. Did God make us in His image by giving us our emotional capacity?

Jesus Raises Lazarus
Jesus Raises Lazarus


Jesus, our model, was no stoic. Twice in the gospels an emotional display by Jesus draws comment. The first is when he weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, and those nearby say, “Look how He loved him!” The source of Jesus’ grief here is unclear: he knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead momentarily. Does death itself pain him? Is he thinking that by raising his friend he will bring down on Lazarus’ head the hatred of Jewish leaders? Is he remembering the creation of Adam, the time before human beings began to die? Is he weeping because human beings were never meant to die, and certainly the eternally existing Son, of one nature with the Father, should never experience such a thing, but now it fast approaches? Does he take a moment here to weep for himself?


For awhile after Lazarus’ tomb Jesus withdraws and quietly spends time with his own disciples, evading the crowds and also the Jewish leaders, who at this point have put a price on his head. He emerges into public view with his dramatic procession into Jerusalem for Passover, and here weeps openly for the second time. All four gospels record the Triumphal Entry, but only Luke adds the detail of Jesus’ tears. This time he tells us why: the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

Paul says, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ in me.” From the beginning we were told we were made in his image. With the advent of Jesus we become capable of being so much like him that his very life can animate us. To have the capacity to be this much like him we must share his nature in vital ways.  I find many qualities about Jesus wonderful: his intellectual brilliance, his wisdom, his moral sense, his mastery over the material world. But I value the perfection of his emotional life most. He felt deeply.  He acted spontaneously on anger, grief, sorrow and affection, all without sin. To be able to live this way would be for me “living his life.”

Photo Credits

Adam & God by ideacreamanuelaPps

Jesus raises Lazarus same as above


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