Made in the Image and Likeness of God

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
— Genesis 1:26 - - The Tanach, Jewish Publication Society tr. [1917].

I had a professor once who spoke in what seemed to me to be riddles. “Thing as thingness is” and “The quiddity of the thisness and the thatness,” he would say. It has been a while since he spoke those and other memorable phrases, but they did stick and I have come to understand some of what he was saying. I do not know if he considered himself Christian, but it seems to me that his criticism of our perception of the separateness of things and our treatment of others as “others” is also a Christian criticism of the way our modern world is presented and the way we moderns too often live. Early in the book Genesis, we read that we are all made in the image of God. That first and primary statement of our identify is that we all have one identity. It is not that some people in some places are and others are not. It is not that some people know or do or profess the right things and therefore are in the image of God, and that others who do not are not. It is simply that God made all - male and female; black, brown, white, yellow, red; Jew, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist; theist, atheist - in the image of God.

What I find so profoundly unifying in this common identity is that God not only made us in God’s image, but that God also signed humanity with the name of God. Although the scriptures give many names for God, the primary name is YHWH for the God who said my name is “I am.” YHWH, the “I am” is pure being, existence, and reality. We human beings carry the name of God in our physical being. Written in the Hebrew language and turned vertically, can you see it? You might try tracing God’s name on your body. Trace your thumb across your forehead and down the center of your face, then across your shoulders and down your arms. Next trace from your neck to your waist, then from hip to hip and down each leg. You have now written God’s name, which is God’s essence and being, on your being. 

Genesis 1:26 continues on to say that we are made in God’s likeness. The likeness of God is the way that we live and it is related to but independent from our image. Image is, if you will, a given, but likeness is a choice. Like identical twins look the same but can have different personalities, being in the common image of God is no guarantee that we will act in the common likeness of God. Some will and others will not. God’s likeness is justice, mercy, compassion, peace, and holiness. God’s likeness is to defend the orphan, the widow, and the alien. The prophet Micah put being in the likeness of God this way: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Some do this and some do not. Perhaps seeing the first half of Genesis 1:26 is necessary for the living out the second. Perhaps only when we see God’s image in ourselves and our common image, and that all are signed with the name of God, will we be able to live into God’s likeness, no longer divided into “thisness and thatness,” “the us and the them,” “those who God loves and those whom God hates.”  There is a Jewish legend that says an angel of God goes before all of us saying, “Behold, the image of God.” It is as much an announcement of who we are as it is a command to be observant of who others are as well. It is a hopeful thought and one with which I wish you a Happy New Year of living in the image and likeness of God.

Fr Bill+