- David Schrader, PhD
Imago Dei comes from the Latin version of the Bible and it means in the “Image of God.” The Bible tells us that God created all of us in his image. Imago Dei or "image of God" has its origins in Genesis 1:26-27, where God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
This biblical passage does not imply that God is in human form, but that humans are created in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual essence.
In bearing the imago Dei, humans were given a measure of sovereignty over all the earth, with dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the livestock, and every creeping thing (Gen. 1: 28). Caring for the environment originated with God and is as old as creation itself.
But even though all things were placed under Adam and Eve's feet, tyranny and exploitation are nowhere to be found in these verses. Genesis 2:4–25 shows that Adam and Eve were to follow the example of God in his stewardship of the earth. God planted a garden in Eden, and He put them there to work it and keep it (2:8, 15). What God initiates, Adam and Eve were to sustain and cultivate.
Humans also reflect God's divine nature in their ability to achieve the unique characteristics with which they have been endowed. These unique qualities make humans different from all other creatures. We have been created with the capacity for rational understanding, for creative expression, for self-actualization, and with the potential for self-transcendence. These are wonderful things. But when these qualities are marred by sin and exploited at the hands of self-serving people – Imago me sets in.
"Imago me" is not a new concept; it's a distortion of imago Dei. It means in my image. You won't find the phrase in the Bible, but you will see it displayed there throughout its pages and everywhere you look around you today.
Imago me usually occurs in one of two ways. First, it happens every time someone tries to fashion God into a deity of their own liking – one that reflects their version of what God should be. For illustration purposes it would be like the clay telling the potter, "I want to mold you (the potter) into what I (the clay) want you to be." Absurd, right? Potters mold their clay into a vessel of their own choosing and not the other way around. But people do this with God all the time. People (the clay) constantly try to mold God (the Potter) into what they want him to be; and their version of God is one where he allows them to do their own thing and without any accountability.
Second, and even worse than manipulating God to suit their own agenda, is when people see themselves as gods – self-made deities, who disregard God entirely and bow to no other images but their own.
Why do you think Satan's lie seemed so appealing to Eve? First, Satan attempted to get Eve to question and doubt God, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan told Eve, “No! You will not die." In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Getting Eve to doubt God and to make the choice to become a god herself, was not difficult for Satan. It was a convincing lie that he continues to peddle even to this day. The fact that she could become like God had to be very enticing. She took and ate the fruit without any hesitation and gave some to her husband as well (See: Gen. 3:1-7). Whenever we the clay, try to become God the Potter, it never turns out well. That one decision by Eve plunged the entire human race into sin.
Have you ever noticed that when Jesus came to earth to reveal his Father's love for the world, there were many that tried to manipulate him onto their own agenda? The crowds wanted to make him an instant king; Simon Peter offered his "better" ideas about how Jesus could achieve his redemptive mission; Jesus' own family, who were thinking that he may have lost it, wanted to get him off the streets and back home where they could care for him; and then there were the Pharisees who tried to coerce Jesus' thoughts on such things as the Sabbath and ritual eating procedures.
How many are guilty today of re-engineering Jesus to suit our fancy? For example, prosperity preachers on television like to peddle their version of Jesus all the time. To them, Jesus is like a limitless ATM. Others embrace a gentler Jesus – one who will not judge the world in righteousness – a Jesus that will bring everyone into heaven regardless of how they lived. People are guilty of twisting his teaching to fit their lifestyles, rather than twisting their lifestyles to fit his teaching?
Many are quick to point out the comfort of Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When was the last time beyond the comfort of that verse that you asked yourself the question – called according to what purpose? If we read a little further, we discover in verse 29 that the purpose was “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”. That's right, to be like Jesus, the Son of God, but on his terms, not ours.
Given our propensity for self-aggrandizement and stubbornness, the idea of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus tells me that such a process will not happen without resistance. Why? Because we want to be in control. But in order for God to conform us into the image of his Son, he must work on us as like a potter, molding and shaping us, and removing any impurities in the clay. Consider this poignant example from the book of Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah 18:1-12, The Lord said to Jeremiah:
Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So, I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.
And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would. “Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So, turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right." But the people replied, “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.
Israel had a real bad case of imago me. They couldn't come to grips with the fact that God, the Potter, could fashion them as he saw fit – even judging them by his own standards, instead of theirs.
Instead of accepting his sovereignty over them as a nation – to bless them if they were obedient or bring disaster upon them if they were unrepentant – they simply told him to buzz off, to stop wasting his breath, they were going to live as they wanted to, they were stubbornly going to follow their own evil desires. They were acting like little gods answerable to no one but themselves. People do the same thing today. They tell God to buzz off all the time. We all know how that turned out for Israel. They spent 70 years in Babylonian captivity.
Imago me is always an affront to God because it never acknowledges him as the Creator of all we see and cannot see. If we see ourselves as gods and in control of our lives, we will have little interest in conceding that God is the author of life and that he controls the universe. But that's exactly the way it is. We are not in control, he is. The Apostle Paul said in Colossians 1:15-17:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
Jesus created everything in the heavenly realms and on the earth. It was created "through him and for him." He made things "we can't even see". He even "holds all of creation together". Imago me could never accomplish all of this. Imago me needs to surrender to imago Dei. We need to acknowledge what the Psalmist said in Psalm 100:3, "Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture."
Yes, we are his sheep, made in God's image. We are not self-made people progressing along the evolutionary scale. We were made to worship him, and not ourselves. We were made in his image so that he could have a relationship with us. We cannot make him serve our purposes. He is the Potter; we are the clay. And happy are those who do not reverse this order.