When I was growing up, our family had an acquaintance named Ginger. Ginger was a petite, happy, friendly woman who laughed a lot. We liked her personality and enjoyed her company, and I don’t remember anyone ever quarreling with Ginger – she was just too nice. But there was more than her niceness holding us back from picking on Ginger. There was one fact about her that overshadowed every other part of her personality: Ginger was a black belt. She held at least one, possibly two, black belts in martial arts and competed nationally in jujitsu tournaments. Once you’d seen Ginger demolish a punching bag or flatten a sparring partner in the blink of an eye, it was hard to get the image out of your mind. It would have been a bad idea to make Ginger mad. One fact about her – her crazy skills at kicking tail – defined her in our eyes.
We all do that. (Not the kicking tail part.) We all are prone to defining people by a certain trait, characteristic, strength, or weakness. In every relationship you have, something is informing, coloring, and defining your view of a person. But here’s the question: do you define people in the same way God does?
In God’s eyes, the defining mark of every human being can be summed up in one phrase: made in the image of God. That’s the clear teaching of Genesis 1:27:
Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
James also picks up the theme in the New Testament when he condemns destructive speech of our brothers, “people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). So then, what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Theologians have debated the nuances of this point for centuries, but for our purposes I think we can summarize it like this: human beings are more like God than any other part of creation.
Does that surprise you? If you want to have some idea what God is like, relate to a human being. Your spouse, your child, your neighbor – yes, even your enemy – is more like God than any other created being in the universe. Yes, we are tainted by sin, and that hideously corrupts our likeness to God. But sin does not destroy the image of God in us completely. In Calvin’s language, we are like ruined, defaced statues – but we remain statues. Or, as Tolkien wrote:
Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed,
Disgraced he may be, yet he is not dethroned
And keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.
Do you see humans as God sees them? Do you see in the tattooed, long-haired, piercing-covered biker on the corner someone to hide your children from…or someone made in the image of God? When your spouse wants to handle something so totally different than you would, do you secretly think Why aren’t you more like me?…or do you see in those differences an echo of the God who cannot be contained in any one human personality?
Everywhere we look, you and I are surrounded by human beings made in God’s image. This needs to be the defining factor in the way we view every person we encounter. We’re going to explore this more in another post. For now just pause and consider this: the person in the cubicle next to you, the person who sleeps beside you, and the child who greets you at the end of the day are each more like God than even the angels. Pause, consider…and marvel. We are made in the image of God.