The Whole Meaning of our Existence is Rooted in This One Sentence…

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, on our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” (verse 26) This verse is an important introduction to today’s verse, as is the verse that follows verse 27. No other creature in creation is made in the image and likeness of God. That has profound implications for all of us to contemplate.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (verse 27) The whole meaning of our existence is rooted in this one sentence. We are made in God’s own image and likeness. This does not mean that we “look like God,” but that our nature as human beings comes from God’s very own nature and being. Genesis 2 gives us a bit more detailed account of how we are made in God’s own “image and likeness.” There we see “the Lord God formed a man* from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) There is a play on the words in Hebrew going on here. It is between the words adam, meaning human being, or man, and adama, meaning ground. God is depicted as a potter here, tenderly molding the human body out of the earth, but this is not enough. He also “breathes” life into the man’s nostrils. This is a perfect metaphor. In this action God is “breathing” his own life into the man. He is breathing his own image and likeness into the man, giving the man his own nature. This image and likeness is in the woman too as Adam says of her, “This one is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23)

What is the nature of God? There would not be enough words or pages to be able to define all that that question entails, but we can point to a few things that have been made clear to us in and through the actions of God throughout the Hebrew and the Christian testaments of the Bible. Let us look at one idea here. God is an absolutely free being. We, then, who are made in his image and likeness, are also absolutely free. He has freely given us this freedom and he will never take it away from us. But because of The Fall, we have been guilty, too often, of distorting this freedom. Because of The Fall, we are also the only creatures in all of creation who can freely and absolutely choose to turn away from our very nature. A squirrel cannot choose to be anything but squirrely. A tree can only be a tree. That is their nature. They are not made in the image and likeness of God, therefore, they are not “free” to choose anything else. They possess no free will.

We alone are free to defy our very own nature, that is, the image and likeness of God that we are made in. Adam and Eve used their freedom wrongly, and we are the inheritors of their fall from grace. But because of God’s love, manifested in his only begotten Son, and the graces we received at our baptisms, we have also been saved. In this knowledge, then, we are called to use our absolute gift of freedom responsibly. By our baptisms, we men and women have been given all the graces we need to remain true to the image and likeness of God that we are made in. Adam and Eve fell through an abuse of their freedom. They bent their free wills to temptation and willfully chose out of pride and disobedience to defy God’s one and only law for them, that is, not to eat of the fruit of only one tree in the center of the Garden of Eden. Because we have been saved by the blood of Jesus, we can see the wisdom of avoiding the same pitfalls by freely choosing, with the help of God, to develop the habits of humility and obedience to God’s infinitely loving will in our daily lives.

Lord, help us to grow in our understanding of what it means to be made in your image and likeness. Give us the knowledge of the good and strengthen in us the will to honor your image and likeness more regularly every day. Give us the ability to see all of our fellow human beings as bearers of your image and likeness. Help us also to challenge and encourage one another to live in your image and likeness more freely with love, compassion and forgiveness. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.