Faith, God

What Does It Mean To Be Made In God’s Image and Likeness?

I just had my bottom left wisdom tooth surgically removed. I have been postponing this surgery for more than twenty years as there was no pain or discomfort. It was only when my second molar cracked and chipped off because of the pressure and decay brought on by the impacted wisdom tooth that I finally had it surgically removed. The stress and pain brought on by the surgery caused me to ponder why God created the wisdom tooth. Shouldn’t His creation be perfect? Why did He create such a superfluous and troublesome thing as wisdom tooth?

A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars that used to help human ancestors in grinding down plant tissue. Probably Adam and Eve (our first ancestors) needed them to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diets changed, smaller jaws gradually evolved, yet the third molars, or “wisdom teeth”, still commonly develop in human mouths. Wisdom teeth have long been identified as a source of problems and continue to be the most commonly impacted teeth in the human mouth. The oldest known impacted wisdom tooth belonged to a European woman of the Magdalenian period (18,000–10,000 BC). This is possible evidence of evolution that is counterintuitive. However, we can’t be sure that wisdom teeth will still be part of the human dental anatomy after another few million years of evolution. Who knows when genetic engineers will be able to manipulate our DNA codes such that our bodies no longer produce wisdom teeth?

A quick check on the bible tells me that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Cf. Genesis 1:26), hence humans have a material body and an immaterial soul/spirit. Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However, Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death.

The image of God refers to the immaterial part of man. It sets man apart from the animal world, fits him for the dominion God intended him to have over the earth (Cf. Genesis 1:28), and enables him to commune with his Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.

Mentally, man was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, man can reason and man can choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Morally, man was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (mankind included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behaviour, or feels guilty, he is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.

Socially, man was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature and His love. In Eden, man’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Every time someone marries, makes a friend, hugs a child, or attends church, he is demonstrating the fact that we are made in the likeness of God.

Hence, the bible does not tell us that the human body is designed by God to look and work perfectly. The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as follows: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2) Even the Son of God was not born to look like a movie star to gain acceptance or popularity. St. Paul told the Corinthians “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor 12:7) A “thorn in the flesh” could mean some infirmity or pain in the flesh or the body.

To emphasize the importance of the spirit over the body, Jesus told his followers in John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Our Lord here teaches a great lesson which he several times repeated in the course of his ministry, and which is most emphatically inculcated by the Apostle Paul, especially in his Epistles to the Corinthians. There are two different principles of religion – one carnal, i.e. earthly and human; the other spiritual, i.e. heavenly and Divine; and of these the second is the true and satisfactory principle. “The flesh is no help at all” – the religion which is external and ceremonial, which rules itself by the letter, is vain; “the Spirit gives life” – the religion which begins with the inner nature, and lays all stress upon the laws and the life of the soul, is Divine, acceptable, and enduring.

The superiority of the spirit to the flesh is apparent in the vital question as to the nature of the union of the Christian with Christ. We should not assume that we will automatically be saved by eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. Didn’t Judas Iscariot also eat his body and drink his blood at the last supper but is still considered by Christ “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12)? The religion of the Spirit tells us that the matter of all importance is the spiritual connection between the believer and the Saviour, and the openness of the believer to God’s grace and mercy.

Spiritual worship is better than mere bodily observances. There is a very powerful tendency in human nature to lower religion into a system of form and ceremony. Many under the Mosaic economy were carried away by this tendency, whilst the more spiritual Jews saw clearly into the true nature of acceptable worship. On this point our Lord’s language is most explicit, especially in his conversation with the woman of Samaria. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Similarly, he told the Pharisee Nicodemus “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5)

A spiritual conception of the kingdom of God is superior to one that is carnal. It is often regarded as something of the nature of a human organization; yet our Lord’s parables should convince the believer that there is a kingdom altogether different from any human institution, whether political or ecclesiastical. Jesus told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) Many are the mischiefs, as Church history abundantly teaches us, which have flowed from the fountain error of regarding the Divine kingdom according to “the flesh”.

The sacraments themselves are only rightly deemed of when they are viewed in the light of the spirit. The outward observances, the visible signs, are valuable and necessary. But they are material expressions of spiritual truth and reality; they are earthly means to spiritual ends.

Christian obedience is that which is rendered, not simply by the bodily nature, but by the spirit. Christ is a Master who asks not mere outward homage or conformity, but the reverential subjection, the cheerful obedience, of the whole nature. Let the spirit serve him, and the devotion of the bodily powers will follow, to prove the sincerity of love.

In conclusion, to be made in God’s image and likeness means we are made to be like Him mentally, morally, and socially. It does not mean our bodies are designed to look and work perfectly like God for God is spirit and does not have a body (i.e. before the incarnation of Christ). Jesus told his followers “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Hence, in our pursuit for the kingdom of God and external life, we should focus more on developing the spirit (i.e. heavenly and Divine) than the body (i.e. earthly and human).

Let’s praise God with the hymn “Your Words Are Spirit and Life”:

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