Who Are We in God’s Sight?
Revisiting a crucial biblical concept
By Frank W. Hardy and Lisa Beardsley-Hardy
In the beginning “God created man in His own image” (Gen. 1:27). What does this mean? What it doesn’t mean is that only Adam was created in the image of God, because both Adam and Eve are included within the scope of the Hebrew term ’adam. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man [’adam] in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them [plural] have dominion over the fish of the sea [and] the birds of the air’ ” (verse 26). Man and woman coequally bear the divine image. Saying this much, however, does not bring the discussion to a close. There is only one God, but He made two people. How can two people bear the image of the same God and yet be different from each other? Or are they different from each other?
Our first parents were equal before God, and yet they were not in every way the same. Clearly there were physical differences. What about emotional ones? Is it true, for example, that men and women routinely see things the same way? It has become proverbial that they don’t. This is a difference, but not the most interesting one.
The deeper question is whether—on a social and spiritual level—men and women bear their likeness to the Creator in identical ways. We think not. Men and women reflect the image of God in ways that are distinguishable. Thus, the fullness of that image can be seen only when we consider the entire range of human characteristics given by God to our first parents in the beginning. If humanity is incomplete without both man and woman, the image of God in humanity is incomplete without both man and woman.
Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred, and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7; Ps. 8:4-8; Acts 17:24-28; Gen. 3; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Ps. 51:10; 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 20; Gen. 2:15).Coming together as “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) is not just a matter of flesh. Anyone who thinks it is will have a shallow and unsatisfying marriage. There is a wholeness in the union of man and woman in loving marriage that transcends physical union, going beyond this to include things on a spiritual and emotional level as well.
What Does This Tell Us About the Son?
In the New Testament Jesus is described as “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), or “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). And yet Jesus came into the world, not as two people, but as one—a “male Child” (Rev. 12:5, 13). This fact raises an interesting question. Can the image of God in Christ be a full and complete expression of the image of God in humanity if He is only one individual? There is no question that Christ was perfect, but was His representation of the image of God in humanity complete?
We would answer yes, but for reasons that require further comment. Christ came to our world as a divine lover, a bridegroom, seeking and wooing us back to Himself. If the sin problem is that “all we like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6), the solution is to return to the Shepherd. We had not become irreligious; we had become lost. And so He came. Once here, Christ’s willingness to undergo the most ignominious and painful of deaths to save us reveals the depth of His longing for us. If a human bridegroom feels a need for his bride, surely Christ also feels a need for us, and feels it more intensely than we can imagine.
What Does This Tell Us About the Father?
“ ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else’” (Acts 17:24, 25, NIV).* God does not need to get things from us. Instead, He lavishly gives us everything we have. But this is not the same as saying that God has no needs of any kind. In some sense that we will perhaps never fully understand, He needs us.
This need follows, not from the desire of a moment, but from something that lies deep within His nature; nor is it something He can suppress. If His nature is to love, He must have creatures capable of receiving that love and intelligently reciprocating it back to its Source. God’s desire for mutuality with us was important enough that He created a world in order to achieve it. We would need to have a place to stand, so God made dry land. We would need to breathe, so He made air. But the idea in all of this was to enjoy intelligent fellowship with our first parents, and later with us.
Here lies a point that must not be missed. Scripture says, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2). The wording is “on the seventh day,” not “just before the seventh day.” Completing “the heavens and the earth” was one thing (verse 1), but enjoying fellowship with our first parents was another. For that He needed to set His work aside. It was in setting His work aside that He accomplished His fullest purpose, because on the seventh day He could finally enjoy a relationship of mutuality—of love intelligently and freely shared—with the man and with the woman. Here is the meaning of the Sabbath and one reason God will not do away with it.
It is part of the image of God for us to love and need someone complementary to ourselves, not identical, but with the differences God ordained. This is something we could never do if we were self-contained or self-sufficient. In Christ’s case, His very oneness brings us to the heart and core of what He came to reveal about the Father. He came with needs that only another could satisfy.
Our maleness and femaleness does not reflect the image of God because God is male or female, but because the limitations this imposes make mutuality and sharing with some other an absolute necessity. This one fact is simultaneously the summing up of what it means to be human and what it means to reflect the image of God.
* Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Frank W. Hardy has recently retired. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy is director of the Department of Education for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. They live in Maryland, USA.