The Meaning of Life: the Image of God

August 31, 2007

As Biblical worship is more than music, but is rather a full-life response to God’s revelation, it’s important for any believer – in order to worship God ‘in Spirit & Truth’ – to understand not only who God is, but who we are in relation to Him. That is why I’m sharing this teaching I shared last year at INSIDE OUT.

I once heard Dr. Richard Pratt tell the true story of a young woman who was cheating on her husband, and had left her husband and two children to live with her boyfriend. But soon, things had gone sour with her boyfriend too – he had thrown her out of his place – so alone in a hotel room, despairing the events that had led her to where she now was, she shot herself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The note she left on the nightstand simply stated, “Don’t cry for me – I’m not even human anymore.” Ironically, just two floors down in that very hotel was a New Age convention. The gunshot couldn’t even be heard above the din of the crowd, who were all chanting, “I am God! …I am God! …I am God!”

How very confused we can become. We are given so many conflicting messages about who we are, and who we are to strive to be, and what life is all about. It comes at us through TV, music – it sometimes even come at us in CHRISTIAN literature – it’s not as though the authors we read are all divinely inspired…they make mistakes too.

But here’s the deal – the lies we believe about who we are, and what we’re here for, affect more than just us – this is not just a personal issue. It was these lies that allowed Hitler to murder millions of Jews back in the ’30s and ’40s! It is because of these lies that we believe that boys can take advantage of girls, or even vice-versa. It’s the subtle lies we believe about ourselves and others that allow us to speak harshly about others. Racial prejudice – lies! Judgmentalism – lies! I want to approach the root of those lies – I want to address the “meaning of life”.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, 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 all the earth 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.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

-Genesis 1:26-28

To get the full meaning of the text, let’s also reflect on another translation:

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”- the Message

Christians often talk about being made in the ‘image of God’, but how often do we have even a clue as to what it means? I’m sure you’ve heard many explanations – most of which, though partially true, are still primarily ‘adventures in completely missing the point.’ For instance, though it may be true that in some sense both God and man are ‘tri-unity’ – trinity – both being, in essence, Mind (God the Father), Body (God the Son), and Spirit (God the Spirit) – the fact is that such is not really the point that Moses was making by using the phrase “image of God.”

What comes to mind when we think of an image? For me, I think of a picture of my wife and another of my son, both of which I keep in my wallet – and the famous painting “Old Man in Sorrow” by Van Gogh that I saw in Atlanta last year – or even the beautiful art installations that some of my old college friends used to throw months of their lives into creating at Ohio University where I went to school. All of those are images.

Consider a trophy: one awarded to someone for a great deed. For instance, consider the Medal of Honor given to a war hero by the president himself after returning from life-threatening service to our country. What do you think our war hero would do if I put his medal in front of my car and ran it over? How would he feel if I set on the ground and bashed it with a baseball bat? Do you think he’d be mad? Do you think I’d LIVE? It always gave him a great sense of pride whenever he looked at it – maybe I should bash it again? Yes – this example is relevant, just stick with me.

Moses wrote the book of Genesis. In ancient times – in Egypt and the other surrounding areas where Moses lived, they had Pharaohs and Emperors who ruled over huge territories. They didn’t have TV’s, nor Billboards, so to remind the people of who was “Boss” – who was “Head Honcho” – who owned all of ‘this’ – you had IMAGES (little statues) on every street corner, and in front of important places of business. In fact, just about anywhere you went, who ever your King was – he’d have his Face & Shoulders carved into wood, or stone, shaped from gold or some other expensive metal. And EVERY PLACE you saw an image of the Emperor – it was as good as if the Emperor had been standing there saying “THIS IS MINE” – it stood as a constant reminder of who he was, and who you were in relationship to him – it represented his sovereignty, power, and authority over you, and whatever you did to that image, you might as well have done it to him. Yet, this image was replaceable, because it was normally just clay or stone – on rare occasion they were made of more valuable metals and such, but even then…it wasn’t what the images were MADE OF themselves that made them valuable, it was who the represented that determined their worth.

And THAT is what Moses is referring to when he calls you the “image of God”…you were created for one primary reason, to spread God’s kingdom by simply “being” like God to people. When you look upon another person, they are to act as a reminder of God – that they are His, that THIS is ALL HIS – to you. As much as you may not like me – no matter how you feel about me – I am a reminder, an image, of God to you…and you are to me the same!

But here’s the real tricky part – do you know what that means? If you attack me physically – God takes it as if you are attacking Him. It’s just like you taking a beautiful statue of your ruling Pharaoh, Emperor, King, or President, and bashing it to pieces right before his eyes. And when you make fun of or speak badly about others, you might as well take that beautiful statue of God, and paint graffiti all over it – deface it for the entire world to see. You don’t think it’s true?

– MatthewFor I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.Matthew 25:35-40

These are not special categories of people – who of us hasn’t been thirsty? Who of us has never had need of anything? Who of us has never been “naked” in a sense – not literally, but when others might have made fun of us when we were not there to defend ourselves – we needed someone to stand up for us – someone to cover for us, or give us a covering?

When I first went off to college and became a Christian I radically turned against the person I was as an Atheist – a preppy looking, hyper-conservative Republican (looking back, Libertarian would be a better word) – and flip-flopped into a shaggy, long-haired, smelly hippy, and a democratic-socialist. As a result of this change, many of my high-school friends began talking very badly of me behind my back, and no longer accepted me into their ‘click’ – all but one. I remember hearing about one occasion when my name came up, and a number of my former friends began speaking harshly of me, and one of them – my true friend, apparently – stood up and defended me. Even though he isn’t a believer in Christ, what he did for me was a defense of the image of God in me, and not only makes me cherish his friendship all the more, but, I believe, was a God-honoring act.

When we read “the least of these”, we shouldn’t think “only those folks that are really bad off” – instead we should read; “whatever you do even to those you think don’t deserve it, you do that to Me.”

Think about the greatest commandment; Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Luke 10:27

Who is your neighbor? Treat that person EXACTLY as you want to be treated! That’s how you can know that you REALLY love God! It is easy to say that we love the Lord, but hard to love his children – his images – but the truth is, if He loves the person next to you with the same love that He loves you, how can we justify not doing so as well?

So, first, the meaning of life is that you were made to reflect God to one another, and to do everything you can to RECOGNIZE God in each other – and to love Him by loving one another. But there’s a second part…let’s go back to Genesis again…“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion”

We’re supposed to MAKE LOT’S OF BABIES! Well, that’s what you THOUGHT this meant, though, isn’t it? God created Adam and Eve and next he said, “MAKE BABIES!” That’s NOT what he’s saying here. This same theme runs through the entire Bible “be fruitful, multiply and have dominion” reappears in one form or another at least 17 times in the Old Testament right up through the book of Jeremiah. God tells Adam to multiply and have dominion. God tells Noah to multiply and have dominion. God tells Abraham that he will MAKE him very fruitful – that He will MULTIPLY HIM. God tells Jacob through Isaac to multiply and have dominion. But, most interesting to me is that in Jeremiah, he is talking about Jesus BEFORE Jesus has even been born, and he says, “”I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.” And how did Jesus do this? Well, he told us to be fruitful and multiply, too.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:18-20

Be fruitful and multiply – if you represent God, and God’s kingdom, and I tell you to make more images of God – to multiply – and spread them out all over the world – to make more disciples who will also look like Jesus – who will look like God – and to spread them, God’s telling you this: spread my Kingdom. He’s saying, “I want folks that look just like me EVERYWHERE, so people will be always reminded of me, and they might praise me and give me glory!” You see, we each have sin, and because of this that “image of God” has faded. But Jesus restores that picture by making us like him – the perfect image of God!

The meaning of Life: to be like God, to represent God to those who don’t see Him yet, to recognize God in people and place who can’t believe that they might be His, and to SPREAD that IMAGE, so that others will recognize their need to be like God, to represent God, and to see Him places that they may have never recognized Him before! In one short phrase – the meaning of your life is to GLORIFY GOD!

What’s that means for us here? Don’t slander, harshly criticize, judge, bicker, or back-bite others. God is in them – they’re a picture of Him, even if imperfectly. If someone is God’s image, shouldn’t you assume the best? Speak the best? Offer the best? Treat them the best? The old song goes, “they will know we are Christians by our love”.

Let us love one another as God has loved us, and by that fulfill our ultimate purpose: to be and recognize the image of God to, and in, one another.

So be it.


3 Responses to “The Meaning of Life: the Image of God”

  1. Thanks for the insight of us being God’s valued statues. I think I remember somewhere reading that we are God’s statues just walking around displaying his imagery to our world. If my memory serves me correctly I think it was St. Augustine, do you recall? I’m using some of this information this weekend to speak to our Jr. high students…Thanks!

  2. […] most popular post here is related to the first – another message to Inside Out. It’s called THE MEANING OF LIFE, and is a teaching on our created-in-the-image-of-God-ness. Yes, that’s a word – I just said […]

  3. No Experts Needed said

    Let me join in thanking your for posting these words. At those times, it is much needed to be reminded of how much we’re Loved.

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