Then 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.”

Genesis 1:26-27

 
For those of us who are familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the notion of human beings bearing God’s image is a familiar one. We may not grasp the implications of this astounding truth and may not live it out consistently, but we are not surprised to hear that all human beings are made in God’s own image.

This would not be true for the original audience of Genesis 1. In fact, that which we take for granted would have been stunning to them, not to mention transformational.

In the Ancient Near East, it was common for people to be regarded as the image of God (or the gods), but only special people. Such a designation was reserved for kings, queens, or others with great authority. The vast majority of people served those who bore God’s image but did not reflect this image themselves.

Into a culture that reserved God’s image only for the most elite people, Genesis reveals that all human beings bear the divine image. Thus, by implication, every person is worthy of honor. Every person shares in the human task of having dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26). Every person is special because every person has been created to be like God.

In the Ancient Near East, the fact that all people bear God’s image was disruptive of comfortable cultural assumptions. Though we do not reserve the divine image only for our top leaders, we may buy into patterns of thought and behavior that give greater value to certain people, perhaps those who are successful, wealthy, or culturally influential. The truth that all people are made in God’s image challenges us to think and live in ways that embody the extraordinary truth that all people are truly extraordinary.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Though we don’t believe God’s image is reserved only for people with political, economic, or cultural power, in what ways does our culture give privilege and honor to some while denying it to others? How might the truth that all people are created in God’s image challenge the ways of our culture? How might it guide you in your relationships today?

PRAYER:

Gracious God, we can so easily take for granted that which is astounding. What an amazing thing to have been created in your image! Thank you for honoring human beings in this way, including me.

Help us, Lord, to live out this truth each day in the ways we see, value, speak, and treat people. May we listen to and honor those we meet as people who bear your image. Through our deeds and words, may we challenge ways in which our culture devalues some while treating others as if they were a higher order of human being.

Today, Lord, may I see every person I encounter as bearing your image, and may I offer each one the respect they deserve. To you be all the glory. Amen.