Darrow Miller and Friends

Imago Dei: The Way Out of Your Identity Crisis

  1. Imago Dei: The Way Out of Your Identity Crisis
  2. Imago Dei: The Way Out of Your Identity Crisis, part 2

Humans were created imago Dei

We live at a time of increased identity crisis and confusion. The worldview called Modernism or Naturalism views us as merely animals, descendants  of apes. Postmodernism sees our biology, the physical platform, as meaningless, merely a social construct, a product of our imagination. We see this argued in the transgender movement sweeping the world.

These two worldviews create an identity crisis. Am I merely an animal, a cosmic accident with no purpose except to be consumer? Is there nothing transcendent? Do I have no soul?

Do I have no fixed identity and purpose? Is my existence and purpose defined merely by my imagination? If I cease to imagine is there nothing left? Is my existence like a vapor, like the morning fog that will lift when the sun arises?

What is imago Dei?

If we want to know who we are and what our purpose is, we need to hear from the One who designed us. Reality reminds us that we are made in the image of God. But what exactly does this mean?

This short series of blog posts is offered to answer this question. Hopefully it be an encouragement for those who are faced with a crisis of identity and purpose.

We are made by God in His image. We know this from listening in on the Creation Council. The language hints at what will later be revealed as the Trinitarian Community – as God plans the creation of humankind.

Two words stand out: we are made in the image and likeness of God. The word image is the Hebrew ṣě·lěm: and means “likeness, i.e., that which is a pattern, model, or example of something.” Our pattern is God, we are modeled after God Himself.

The second word is likeness, the Hebrew demûṯ: and means “that which has a similarity or comparison.”[1] God “stamped His image” into humankind. The atheist who said  man is more like a dog than like God, was wrong! On the contrary, we are the imago Dei!

Our kind is the humankind, mankind. This is an objective description of our core or primary existence. We are distinct from the rest of creation including other mammals. While we are creatures of God’s making and united with the creation order, at the same time we are distinct in kind from other kinds. We are the highest form of God’s creation because we are the only creatures that are imago Dei. We are the nearest resemblance to God.

Imago Dei nature transcends the natural world

We are not limited to our biological nature, as the naturalist would say. We transcend biology. We are not mere “ghosts” without concrete substance as Postmoderns would imply.

In contrast to both of these, we have a physical body, male or female, married to a corresponding soul or transcendent nature as masculine and feminine. As the imago Dei, human beings are the crown of creation, the crescendo – the climactic moment – of creation.

To best understand what it means to be made in the image of God, we need to think in terms of a three- sided prism as opposed to a simple, flat surface of glass. The latter is static, the former is not. The colors reflected from a prism are dynamic; they fairly dance. The image of God in the human should not be thought of as a static state of affairs. No, it is a dynamic life, God’s nature impressed on our being. It is a prism, not a pane of glass.

The three sides of the prism may be described by three words: has, is and does. From the structural point of view, we see that man has an image that is like God. The relational view indicates that man is “community.” The functional view relates to what man does: he stewards creation.

Let’s look at these three in turn.

The structural view – imago Dei means man is like God

Human beings are both like God and unlike God. While we are like God in that we bear His image, we are not like him in that He is the Creator and we are mere creatures. In theological language, God has incommunicable (not in common with man) attributes and communicable (shared) attributes. Let’s look at each.

Man is unlike God in six major areas:

  • God is Self-Existent – He is the I AM WHO I AM – (Exodus 3:13-14; Isaiah 40:28-29)
  • God is Immutable – He never changes – (Psalm 102:25-27; James 1:17)
  • God is Eternal – He stands outside of time – (Psalm 90:2; Rev. 1:8)
  • God is Transcendent – He stands outside of the universe – (I Kings 8:27)
  • God is Omnipresent – He exists everywhere – (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:24)
  • God is Infinite – He has no limit in space – (Job 11:7-9, Ps. 147:5)

While man is unlike God in his incommunicable attributes, he is like God in His communicable attributes. Man, like God, has attributes of intellect (a mind), moral attributes (a heart), and attributes of purpose (a will). Let’s examine these.

the imago Dei human has a mindHuman beings have a mind, the attribute of intellect. Humans have the ability to reason, to think critically, to explore the universe that God has created, to reflect on their own existence. They have the ability to know, to understand and to pursue wisdom. They have the ability to know that they are not alone in the universe, and by examining His creation they can know that God exists and something of His character. To have a mind is to think God’s thoughts after him. We were made by God to put our minds to work to explore, at the micro and macro levels, the universe God made, to discover the resources He has hidden for us to find and use to flourish.

Human beings have a heart. This represents our moral attributes, the seat of the emotions and human creativity. Here is the place of God’s communicable attributes like holiness, love, grace, goodness, mercy, righteousness, and patience. Here, as well, is the home of emotion and intuition and the place from which human creativity springs. We were made by God to create whole new universes (think J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia) and new tools (such as the smart phone) to aid us in our daily lives. We are to write poetry, compose music, create beautiful fabrics and design beautiful clothing, develop remarkable cuisines, and choreograph beautiful dances. We have been made to be good and do good.

  • Darrow Miller

… to be continued

[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).