JUSTICE AND THE IMAGE OF GOD

GENESIS 1:26-27

Justice, at its root, has to do with treating others rightly. But the noble goal of justice demands we ask why people should be treated justly. Why should you be treated justly and why should you treat others justly? Why do you deserve fair treatment? 

            All people deserve to be treated with justice because of creation. In Genesis 1:26-27 Moses recorded for us how on the sixth day of creation God said, “let us create man in our image and after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” 

            Our text reveals that there is some dissimilarity between humanity and God. God created male and female, but God is neither male nor female. God is God. We also should note that God is the uncreated and mankind is the creature. This distinction between the creature and the Creator is so very important to begin understanding who humans are and who God is. We are not God. We are able to be godly as we serve as God’s image bearers. 

God’s Image Bearers

            All humans should be respected and treated with justice because they are God’s image bearers. Now, this claim demands that we wrestle with what it means to be God’s image bearers. This phrase has been abused when the focus has been placed on human functionality. 

Martin Luther abused this phrase to look down on Jews who he said were not fully functional because they did not accept Jesus. Hitler subsequently utilized many of Luther’s writings to further his awful agenda. The same pattern was followed by slave owners who viewed others as functional than they were and therefore not made in the image of God and therefore not deserving of justice. The very same problem is seen as the handicapped, just conceived, and aged are brushed aside as less than human because they are not as functional or are not yet functional. Let these heresies and the injustices they cause perish from the earth. 

Back to the Scripture, God’s words were to “make God in our image.” The word image בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ is defined as an image or a likeness. Here in Genesis 1:26, humanity is described as the image of God. Now, I believe that will make more sense if we understand what God has done in the Garden. God has made all of creation as a theater of his glory. However, the Garden of Eden was distinct from the rest of the earth. The Garden was there as God’s special dwelling place—God’s temple. Now, in any temple there would images which show what deity lives in that temple. In God’s garden temple, he set up his images—Adam and Eve—to reflect God’s glory.

I believe this interpretation is confirmed by the New Testament’s affirmation that Jesus is the image of God. The eternal Son was not created. Instead, he simply is the image of God. He is exactly what God is. He is the Son, the Word, and the Image—he is the full and true expression of the Father. Since the Son is the Image of the Father, we can see the Father by seeing the Son. Christ is the image, but we humans are created in the image. We aren’t like the Son in nature, but we are like the Son by grace. We humans are God’s image bearers. 

So, rather than functionality, to be an image bearer means that Adam and Eve and all their descendants display God’s glory simply be being. Wherever there is a human present, there God’s glory is shown. If you attack one of God’s image bearers, then you are attacking God himself. If you do not value one of God’s image bearers, it is as if you do not value God. 

God created his image bearers to…bear his image. Can we imagine a more noble purpose? Is there something better than simply to bear that sacred image? To reflect God’s glory? I am unworthy. Still, God’s grace abounds more and more. God created humanity in his image and in his likeness. “Interpreters do not agree concerning the meaning of these words. The greater part, and nearly all, conceive that the word image is to be distinguished from likeness. And the common distinction is that image exists in the substance, likeness in the accidents of anything.”[1] What are accidents? These are things apart from our being—these are the things we do. So, God has created us to reflect his glory just by being and then also by being who we are designed to be. 

God’s Active Image Bearers

            God’s image bearers are not stationary statues. Instead, God gave his creatures work to do. Being made as male and female the image bearers are to be productive. This is why God commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Your gender is—like Adam and Eves’—given by God and should be used for God’s glory by fulfilling the purposes God has given to you as a man or a woman. God’s image bearers were also to “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” over the rest of creation. Why were God’s image bearers told to fill and civilize the non-garden parts of creation? They were to go out spreading the cultivated area in order to further the representation of God’s presence and thus God’s glory. The uncultivated non garden temple was to give way to cultivated temple presence. 

            So, then we can see the same work in the life of the incarnate Image of God. John described the deity of the Word in John 1:1 but then he described the Image of God at work during the incarnation in John 1:14 when he said, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In the incarnate life of God’s true and full Image, the world saw God. 

            Christian, you can better understand your purpose in life and the value God has assigned to your life. Despite having tried to hide our identity and purpose behind the dark veil of sin, God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet 1:30). Christian, you “are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). More simply, perhaps we should all join in the ancient and beloved hymn— “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” 

            Why are you going to let your light shine? You are going to shine because God made you to be his image bearer—to reflect his glory. Furthermore, God has made you to be active in his world—to make his glory known. What are we doing then? 


[1] John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 93.

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