Theology & Spirituality

Being Imago Dei

Imago Dei. That mysterious reality that humans are created in the image of God. Perhaps you have questioned—internally or verbally—what imago Dei means on an individual level. Do we look like God somehow? Perhaps the things we do image Him. After all, He made us as sub-creators in His world, cultivators in His garden of the earth.


Since Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, the Christian community has seen sub-creation as one of the chief ways humans reflect God’s image. However, there are some puzzling conclusions if we assume sub-creation is all, or even most, of the way we image the Creator. What about persons who are in a coma or whose brain function is limited? What about the unborn? Does one’s inability to sub-create make them sub-human, or inhuman, or less able to image God?


God did not make us human doings, He made us human beings. We are not mere animals (it frustrates me that humans are listed in the animal kingdom, but that’s another post); we are made after God’s kind, in His likeness. We are not under the dominion of anyone but God Himself. He made us intentionally both to be and to do. The King of the universe made us like Himself, possessing authority over all of this earth. Whether we are creating businesses, tools, art, homes, relationships, music, food, and so forth—or whether we are in a coma, still in the womb, or possess mental and physical deficiencies, we are human beings, distinct from every other created thing.


Human beings have the capacity to appreciate Beauty, something no other creature has the ability to grasp or communicate. Further, only humans experience the internal pang due to the beauty of sunset-spangled clouds or glittering stars in the canvas of the night sky. Plants and animals eat to grow and live, but human beings eat a variety of foods for their diverse flavours, even artistically arranging the foodstuffs on their plates.


I raise a challenge to you: enjoy the gift of being human. Look at the blue sky, the tufted clouds, and sunlight filtered through shiny green oak leaves. Listen to the birds trill and the crickets chant their clarion call. Hear the wind crashing through leaf-clad branches, smell the lashing rain on the soil, and see the fierce flashes of heaven-flung fire. Feel the fresh breath of the wind, taste the first flakes of snow, drive with the windows down—and the radio off—just because. Just be.


Or have you not yet learned to be alone with your thoughts? Can you go a day without background music? Do you know how to sit still without even a book or a pen in hand? Chances are that you have not learned these things at all, or not as well as you would like. This depends in part on how you choose to live, but often the world—in various forms and façets—refuses to leave you in peace, as C. S. Lewis aptly expressed:


Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some such society, he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced friendship. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.1


Like Lewis, I find one cannot go anywhere without noise. We are rarely left by ourselves, and are constantly at the mercy of the telephone—and now e-mails, texts, social media alerts, and all the rest of the technological litany. I grow weary of the clamour. I constantly kick against the pressure others place upon me. “What are you doing with your life?” they inquire. “What is next for you?” they ask, alongside the dread, “When do you think you will get married?” I am learning to reply, “I am being where I am—no further ahead.” Part of being—for me—involves work, cultivating real friendships, reading, hiking in silence, cooking and sharing meals, studying, and the like. But it is more, it is deeper. There is a knowing that those things do not make me who, or what, I am. I am imago Dei, not of my own choice, power, or ability but rather by God’s kindness, good will, and authority.


We have the gift of being made in the image and likeness of God. Let us receive that great boon humbly, as George MacDonald once penned: “I would rather be what God chose to make me, than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thoughts—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking.”2 And might I add, in all being.

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Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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