Humanity as the Image of God

During Lent I will be inviting my congregation to reflect on God’s remarkable words at the beginning of The Book of Genesis: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1:27). If we assume that scholars are correct when they tell us that these words were written during the exile in Babylon, then they are nothing short of astounding.

Why? Well, what we know from other texts that come from the exilic period is that Israel was warned time and again not to worship images. Idolatry would have been a constant temptation in a foreign land with foreign Gods. Isaiah 40:18 warns Israel of this temptation: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An Idol…?” This passage goes on to affirm the transcendence of God, who is the creator of all things. Yet, at the same time as Israel is reminded of God’s transcendence and incomparable nature and warned against idolatry, they are also told that there is indeed one created thing that makes God known. Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “this text (Genesis 1:27) makes a surprising counter-assertion: There is one way that God is imaged in the world and only one: humanness”(Genesis,1982,p.32).

The claim of Genesis 1:27 is that human beings are the only part of God’s creation that reveals something about the reality of God. Idols are static and fixed. Human beings are free. In contrast to idols, human beings--like God--can love, give and forgive. Like God human beings are mysterious and not easily reduced to abstract formulae. Like God human beings are given authority over “every living thing that moves upon the earth,” and invited to care for them.

It is not insignificant that Lent begins with Ash Wednesday reminding us of our humanity: “Remember that you are dust.” We are reminded that we are utterly dependent on God’s breath to give us life. We are invited to claim the humanity that both reminds us of our dependence on the transcendent other, but also the humanity that reveals that other.

As we reflect on being creatures created in God’s image this Lent, I want to invite you all to share an original photo of one or more human beings that reveal God’s image. We will collect the photos for our Image of God photography contest and vote on a winner on Palm Sunday. Please send the photos in the highest resolution possible to We will post the top entries on our photo wall at St. Timothy’s. You may also choose to post them on social media using the hashtags #StTimsCincy and #ImageOfGod. You can post them without any commentary or share a few reflections as to why this photo is revelatory for you.

It is also telling that Genesis 1:27 refers to humanity in the singular (“he created humankind”) and the plural (“he created them; male and female he created them”). Apparently, God is revealed in our individual uniqueness, but also in community. In his letters, St. Paul often focuses his attention on the Church community as a place where God is made known. In fact, Ephesians 1:23 refers to the Church as the community, which is Christ’s body, “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Wow! The very human body of Christ making God known in an extraordinary way.

Roger GreeneComment