By Most Reverend Alberto Rojas
We are spiritual people by nature. The creation of the humankind is very special because we were created in the image and likeness of God, unlike the rest of Creation; and this gives us a unique privilege but also a serious responsibility in our relationship with God, with other people, and with the rest of Creation. So, what does it mean that we were created in the image and likeness of God?
In the book of Genesis (1:26-31), we learn that we were created in the image of God. As I was growing up I learned that God does not have a particular image or body, so I used to wonder how this was possible; we don’t all look alike or behave the same way. Then later I learned that the image of God does not necessarily refer to a physical resemblance. God the Father does not have a body. God the Holy Spirit is pictured in the Scriptures as a dove, as a flame or as a gentle breeze, but still a Spirit. God the Son does have a body now, but He didn’t have one when humans were created in God’s image.
Therefore, if we stay only with the belief that the image of God is a physical resemblance, this could be confusing and misleading. If such was the case, we could ask who was created more in the image of God, women or men, Blacks of Whites, Yellows or Browns? And how about those sisters and brothers of ours who are born without hands or legs, or with a special condition? Are they less in the image of God?
Image and likeness are similar yet distinct terms. I think they complement each other. An image of something is duplicative. Statues are made in the image of a person and this image is described as an exact resemblance, like a son who is the very image of his father. Now, the likeness does not convey the precise details of the image. To be like someone else means to possess many, but not all the characteristics of the other. Obviously, we don’t possess God’s omnipotence, wisdom, righteousness, perfection, divinity, and so on.
God formed people from the dust and gave them life by sharing His own breath (Gen. 2:7). Accordingly, humans are unique among all God’s creation, having both a material (body) and an immaterial (soul) part.
Having the image and likeness of God means, in simple terms, that we were made to resemble God. The truth is that all humanity was created in the same image and likeness of God; all human beings reflect and express the image of God. The image of God is instilled in our very nature, and that is where our dignity comes from. Adam and Eve mirrored the life of God as they were created in perfect health and were not subject to death before the fall.
The likeness of God refers to the immaterial part of us; it sets us apart from the animal world, fits us for the caring God intended for us to have, and enables us to communicate with our Maker. So, we can say, we are like God in the sense that we have been given a special power over the earth; we are responsible for the caring of our world and its inhabitants. But this power is not a birthright of ours. It is a sacred gift, given to us from God; it is a delegated responsibility that should never be taken for granted, because ultimately, we are to respond to God for the conditions of our planet earth and the state of our fellow human beings.
We were created in a higher scale, unlike animals, plants and minerals. We possessed a special likeness to God for we are capable of developing a personal and spiritual relationship with Him; we communicate with God and God with us (Gen.1:28). Some animals appear to have a capacity to relate, an instinct to respond or react, but not the capacity to form a spiritual relationship with God. Humans are blessed with this wonderful ability and opportunity.
There are some basic attributes of human nature we have in our likeness with God such as our intellect, our free will, and our capacity to relate. With our intellect we are able to think in spiritual ways and acquire knowledge and wisdom; we have the ability to ponder the true essence of our existence in the world and to distinguish right from wrong, making intelligent choices without allowing selfish motives to consume us. With our intelligence we have been able to create and invent an amazing array of technological advances. Space rockets, airplanes, computers, cellphones, sophisticated vehicles, robots and so on, are all creations of the human intellect.
Our free will is another faculty God shared with us humans, and it allows us to choose freely and to model who we can become. Our choices shape our character and even our destiny. We may use this freedom to worship God or to curse God; we may choose to live a life of grace or a terrible life of iniquity. God wills to lead us in the right direction, but He does not force us. While God is always reaching out to develop a relationship with us, it is us who choose to accept his invitation or not. God’s ability to forgive and his patience in waiting for us surpasses the patience and forgiveness we display to our fellow brothers and sisters, because God is pure love.
Another attribute God shared with us is our capacity to relate. God revealed something about Himself by creating creatures capable of forming a relationship with Him. Humans are meant to live in relationships of love with each other as a reflection of the loving relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everything in creation was good except one thing, that Adam was alone and thus, he was not a true image of God. So, God created Eve, an equal to Adam, so they could relate to one another.
We were created in the image and likeness of God so that we make God’s glory visible in the world. However, we are more than just pieces of art resembling God’s presence; we were created to live in a harmonious relationship with God and one another. Our intellect and free will allow us to receive God’s gift of truth. But Jesus Christ does not want us to be passive receivers of his love, truth, ad goodness; He wants us to use what we have received for the good of those around us. We are called to love God and our neighbors as Jesus has loved us, that we may be able to reflect and resemble God’s loving presence to all without distinction of race, skin color, culture, or nationality. God’s love is all we need!