Imago Dei - Have we lost it?
I’ve recently come across the Latin phrase “imago dei,” which means “image of God.” At first, I thought it was a nice phrase, something to remind us that we are made in God’s image.; it made me feel warm inside. However, over the last couple of weeks, the phrase has taken on deeper meaning as I studied it for our Sunday discussion group at church.
The book of Genesis says that when humankind was first created, God said “‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1: 26, 27, NRSV).
If you’ve spent any time in church at all, you know that after God uttered these words, humanity fell miserably. We fell under a curse which meant that we had to work hard for our food, suffer pain in childbirth and were under a physical death sentence. Before the fall, we lived in complete joy and harmony with our Creator. After the fall, there was a wall of sin between us.
Since the first century, most Christians have agreed that the image of God referred to an original spiritual possession that was lost in the fall. To what degree you believe that spiritual possession was lost depends on what theological bent to which your denomination subscribes. Some Christians believe that humanity only lost the supernatural aspects of that image, such as “sanctifying grace,” justice, immortality and integrity. What was left was a wounded human nature that still had the powers of reason and free will. Others believe that humans lost everything related to that image after the fall, including freedom of will. Still others believe that the image was so corrupted that whatever remains is horribly deformed.
I like what Matthew Henry said, “The soul of man, considered in its three noble faculties, understanding, will and active power, is perhaps the brightest clearest looking-glass in nature wherein to see God.” Henry believed that Christ was the exact image and that humanity was the most like God in relation to any other being.
By watching the news alone, anyone can see that at the very least the image of God within humanity is wounded, but there is hope. Colossians says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator,” (3:9,10, NIV). The image of God can be renewed through Christ. We may not completely live up to that image, but it is something for which to aim. God will help us. All we need to do is ask.