In His Image
Early in Genesis God reveals what just might be the single most important insight into who we are ever disclosed. It defines our strengths, reveals our purpose and frames our relationship with God. It is found in Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. . .”
Like most believers, for many years I had no idea what it meant to be made in the image of God. It's sad that the spark that ignites the image of God within each of us goes unrecognized. How can we claim to know God if we cannot see Him in ourselves? Then one day while preparing to teach a Sunday School course on Genesis, I suddenly realized that I not only knew what it meant but that my entire professional life had been based on that great gift from God.
As I prepared my notes for the class I reasoned that the “image of God” must entail those aspects of human nature which are not shared with any other form of life on earth. Its meaning must be found in the way God revealed Himself in the first chapter of Genesis. The most dominate picture of God in these early verses is that of His creative power at work. Then it hit me, being created in the image of God means that we were given both the ability and the drive to create. Among all living things, only man has that same ability. Of course, some animals and insects “make” things – beavers make dams, ants make large nests, etc. But these are fixed, limited abilities that allow them to survive. By any standard, man is the only truly creative creature on earth.
Not only can we be creative, we are driven to be creative. Each of us has a creative spark of some kind. It may be working with our hands, writing, music or athletics. From the child who draws a crayon picture of his family to the architect who for the first time walks through the building that had once existed only in his imagination, we all find pride, joy, and fulfillment in our creative efforts. No matter what our skill, we gain immense enjoyment from using it. While a life of pure leisure with nothing to do might sound attractive, the truth is we have to be doing something to feel satisfied with life. We are lost if we don’t have a purpose. We have to, in some way, be creative.
By training I am an electrical engineer. I have taught computer science and engineering for more than 30 years. All my professional life I had been using my skills to translate my imagination into reality. I have designed hardware and written innovative software. I never understood that all that time I was using the spark of creativity that had made me “like” God. The enjoyment and fulfillment that I felt with a job well-done was a reflection of the joy that God experienced when He looked out at His creation and declared it “good.”
A number of years ago I saw the Oscar-winning documentary, Born into Brothels, which tells the story of the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. It is a heart-rending story of these lost children and the attempt of one woman to change their lives. While it is not a Christian story it does illustrate our need to be creative. The documentary filmmaker, Zana Briski, tries to help a small group of children by giving them cameras and teaching them the art of photography. As a result, she opened up a whole new world to these children. For the first time they could truly be creative and as a result is they blossomed. Her program was a success precisely because it taped into their gift from God: their need to be creative. For the first time, these children were given a means by which they could exercise that gift. It gave meaning and purpose to their life. It brought them joy.
Yet, man cannot create in the same sense as God. Only God can create from nothing, we require raw materials. But there is a part of our creative ability which does not require raw materials; we can create in our minds. Our imagination is not restricted by the limitations that come with the need for materials. We can image anything - even things which we could never actually build. Perhaps in this way we are closest to the image of God.
Understanding what we share with God and how He created us in His image is more than just an interesting intellectual exercise. For me, once I knew that my creative drive was modeled after God, I finally understood why it was so important to “keep every thought captive.” My imagination is a gift from God. Yet, in a fallen world I can use that gift to create beauty or to create filth. Unfortunately, mankind does an excellent job at both. If I am to honor God and thank Him for the skills He gave me, I need to direct all my creative abilities towards that which will please Him.
Perhaps more importantly, I now understand what had been a very difficult passage for me. Jesus once said, that if we look on a woman with lust we have already committed adultery (Matthew 5:28). I always wondered why imagining a sin was a bad as doing the sin. It never seemed fair to me. But, if my creative imagination is not only a gift from God but the very essence of the image and likeness of God within me, then using it to contemplate sin is taking it to a place that God would never go. It distorts and vilifies the nature of God within us. Where once I might have tolerated and even entertained sinful thoughts believing it was OK because I would never act on them, now I see them for what they really are: dark and horrifying in and of themselves.
Now when I write a paper, design a circuit, or take an idea to its natural conclusion I experience more than just the satisfaction of completing a task. I turn to God and say “Father, look at what I have just done, what do you think of it?” I picture Him, like the proud parent who posts his child’s latest work on the fridge, smiling at my accomplishment
Sad as it is when believers do not see the image of God within themselves, it is a joy to know the great gift that God gave us all. It is time to bring out the likeness of God in all believers. It is time to use our creative gifts to serve Him and each other.