Chasing Identity (Part 6 – In the Image of God)

“An honest and proper perspective is one that acknowledges that I am utterly dependent on God for my existence and for my restoration. But that begs a couple of questions. Why do I exist in the first place? And to what am I restored?”

That’s how we ended last time—and those two mammoth questions were really what brought me to the shores of the deep reservoir of Biblical identity. It may be that we don’t have all the details necessary to exhaustively answer questions of human existence and destiny. However, God does want us to know who we are. This desire is reflected throughout the revelation of scripture, beginning in Genesis with the account of creation.

Genesis 1:26-27 
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

In my brief Bible college career, I was made to read very dry and presumptuous systematic theologies, written by theologians who sought to define precisely in which respects human-beings bear the image of God. I will not attempt any such feat myself. I only offer some observations based on my understanding of the overall story and message of the Bible. I will not offer proof-texts here. If there is disagreement with any of the following propositions, I’m certainly open to discussion.

God is relational. So are we.

God has personality. So do we.

God uses language. So do we.

God has thoughts and emotions. So do we.

God exemplifies and appreciates beauty and goodness. These things are present in every human soul. 

God is creative. So are we.

God has a unique identity. So does each of us.

God loves. And he has given us the ability and opportunity to do so as well.

In other words, God created people with all the capacities necessary for relating to and communicating with himself. He placed within our very makeup the things that he values, cherishes, and appreciates.  And he created humanity in such a way that each individual would be a unique expression of those qualities and capacities. We are not equal to him, but we do correspond to him.

This tells me that at least a large part of God’s intent in creating humanity was to enjoy a unique, intimate, reciprocal relationship with every person who was willing.

And I believe he meant for us to enjoy similar relationships with one another. After all, what father does not rejoice when his kids’ neat qualities are noticed by others? And what parent is not delighted to see their children loving, blessing, and benefiting others? If we are meant to be valued and appreciated by God, we are certainly meant to be valued and appreciated by one another.

Yes, we owe our existence to him—and that should create a grateful awe in every human heart. But we exist because he wanted us—and that should create a flattered wonder in every human heart. Our existence was not initiated by us, but God endowed us with the ability to choose the nature and course of that existence once it was established by him. This potential to choose God and to offer ourselves back to him necessarily includes an equal potential to reject God and to withhold ourselves from him. And this is the wonder of wonders—having given us that power, he vulnerably offers himself to each of us. This means that (by God’s own design) each person is incredibly significant to him. He allows us to affect him, and he is intensely interested in how we will respond.

And here is where I began to understand that I do not have to vie for God’s attention or find ways to stand out in the crowd. Neither do I have to forsake the desire to be noticed and appreciated by God. Universal love and individual significance are not mutually exclusive concepts. God’s offer of love and eternal relationship is universal in scope precisely because it is intimately, vulnerably, and unconditionally extended to each individual.

He notices me. He is attentive to my regard for him and to my development as a person. My choices do affect the quality of my relationship with him and the level of responsibility he is willing to give me. But they do not change my fundamental worth. I am uniquely and intrinsically valuable to God by virtue of the sort of creature that I am. That is where I need to anchor my identity. Whether or not anyone else sees me. Whether or not I meet my own list of arbitrary expectations. Whether or not I feel particularly lovable.  Though broken and marred by sin, I am an amazing creature! Downplaying or denying the unique significance, beauty, and potential that God has invested in me amounts to an abominable lie—which certainly doesn’t improve my spirituality.

Interestingly, I have found that recognizing my own mind-blowing value has given me the ability to be more humble and less self-focused. My life’s motive switches from validating myself to offering myself—simply because I have something to offer.

I confess that, apart from our status as image bearers, none of the above is directly stated in Genesis 1:26-27. But I do believe it is assumed and implied both here and throughout the Biblical narrative. In subsequent installments, we will explore the evidence for this claim through a survey of God’s interaction with individuals in both the Old and New Testaments.

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