What is my image? Is it what I portray on social media via my computer? Is it what the mirror reflects? Is it what other’s think of me? Hmmm.
In God’s Image
Scripture states that God created humanity “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27; see also Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9). But what does this mean?
When I was a freshman at the great institution of conservatism known as the University of Oregon, I thought that maybe the image started as an ape, thinking I could marry creation and evolution. It didn’t take too long to realize this was wrong-headed. But I still had no answer.
Erickson states that “the biblical picture of humanity’s origin is that an all-wise, all-powerful, and good God created the human race to love and serve him, and to enjoy a relationship with him” (Christian Theology, 2013, p. 439). I don’t dispute this, but I’m still unsure about the image of God in humanity.
Anthony Hoekema concludes that God’s image in humanity has two aspects: what humanity is and what humanity does. What humanity is can be called the structural aspect and what humanity does can be called the functional aspect.
The structural aspect relates to “the entire endowment of gifts and capacities that enable man to function as he should in his various relationships and callings” (Created in God’s Image, 1986, pp. 70-71). And the functional aspect is how humanity engages in life, whether that is engagement with other humans, or with the environment or with God. Thus, returning to Hoekema, the functional aspect means humanity’s “proper functioning in harmony with God’s will” (p. 72, emphasis mine). So the structural aspect means we were originally built to function properly and the functional aspect is do we actually choose to function properly. This makes sense to me, but let’s see if I can illustrate this a little differently.
Servers and Metaphors
Metaphorically, it helps me to think of this like a large building. The building is more than a foundation with concrete and rebar. It has interior rooms with specific functions in mind (e.g., conference rooms, single-person offices, reception area, cafeteria, large areas for cubicles, etc.). It has wiring for all different types of technology, and it has heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment. All of this comprises the structure of the building. Often, the technology is centralized in a “cool room,” or as in my workplace it is called the ‘server room,’ where all wires originate and where many servers are in place and are ready to handle the computing needs of the building’s occupants. Similarly, much of the other physical attributes, central HVAC and plumbing equipment are often housed in an area known as a physical plant or utilities areas. These are all representations of endowments bestowed by God into the structure of the human.
Thus, in the same metaphor, the functional aspect means our building’s operations. Does the HVAC respond properly, or does cool air come on when the controls are set for heat? Does the plumbing work when faucets are turned on or do they leak, spray, or clog up? Is all of the technology working properly or are there computer crashes and power fades? In other words, are the building’s functions operating in harmony with the wishes of the building’s architects or are they malfunctioning?
Herein is the pertinent difference between the structural and functional aspects of God’s image in humanity. When humanity fell into sin as explained in Genesis 3:1-7, humanity still retained the image of God in the structural sense but lost it in the functional sense. Why is this? Because humanity willfully stopped functioning in harmony with God’s will. In a malfunctioning building, the structure itself remains intact, but the inner functionality, the functional aspects of building operations, are in disharmony.
So while humanity still retains the image of God, it is tarnished, damaged and in need of rescuing. The reason is because humanity has willingly chosen to depart from the original design of its Architect. But why do we need rescuing and how do we get rescued? And what are we rescued from? Well, those are other posts!
Please stay tuned…
By the way, I’m posting a day early because I’m going on a fishing trip with my youngest and Grandpa!