In Genesis 1:26-27, the Bible says this: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” Now “image” and “likeness” are two keywords. I want us to pay close attention to them because they’re going to help us understand how much God loves us and why He is so focused on our unique life. First, let’s consider the concept of God creating mankind in his image.
Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1359), a 12th-century monk, said this: “The mind contemplates God. In beholding itself, it sees God in itself, since it is made of His image.” When I read these words, I have to believe there is much more than just a concept involved. There must be something in the words chosen that will tell us more, resonating with both our minds and emotions – and there is: it is found in the word “image.” It provides us with a glorious secret unseen by the natural eye.
So what is an “image?” The Hebrew word behind the English word “image” is “tselem” and means “similar,” because it is comparable or shaped exactly like the object it reflects. The word is always used to refer to a concrete, physical representation of something. “Tselem elohim,” then, means “image of God.” What this tells us is that we’re like God: we’re not just morally like Him, we are made in His image. We are shaped like Him. Many other scriptures reiterate this concept. God is not a big ethereal puff of smoke – nor are we!
But “Tselem elohim” has another usage in scripture. (See Daniel 3:1, Numbers 33:52, Ezekiel 16:17; 23:14, Amos 5:26, and 2 Chronicles 23:17.) It is the exact same phrase that the Amorites, Hittites, Jebusites, and Phoenicians used to designate their idols, the ones they worshipped and bowed down to. In other words, the “image of God” in the Bible referred to both living humans, created in God’s likeness, and the idols of pagan gods, made out of wood, metal, or stone.
What does this mean? Clearly, God was not telling the Israelites that they themselves should be worshipped, as though they too were pagan gods. The Bible was written to differentiate the Jewish people from the Gentiles and to establish the principles making them priests among the nations. They were to be a light to the nations, to bless others with the knowledge that God Himself had given them. When we understand that we can also understand that what God was saying is that those pagan idols were not true images of Him; we are! We are created to be His image, His idols placed here on earth, not to be worshipped ourselves, but to show others who God is: to reflect his nature and draw others into relationship with him.
I don’t know about you, but that concept really amazes me. Did you know that God loved you that much? I know you knew he sent His Son to die for you. But did you realize that you were His idol, His image here on earth? Take a moment to reflect on what the scripture is saying. If you put this book down and walk away without grasping the full impact of this concept, then you will have missed the full truth of how much God loves you and who He created you to be.