In the Image of God

In the last post I looked at how the Purusasukta goes back to even before time began and explains the mind of God (Prajapati) deciding to sacrifice Purusa. From this decision creation of everything followed – including the creation of mankind.

I want to now consider implications of what the Veda Pusthakam (Bible) says about this creation of mankind. So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a key passage from this creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’? It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc. Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God. So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will. In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience. We make choices and decisions on a daily basis. God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions. Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God. We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’. We are not impersonal ‘its’. We are like this because God is this way. In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in later Hindu traditions, or like the ‘Force’ in the well-known movie Star Wars. The fact that humans are sentient persons rather than ‘its’ makes sense in light of this early teaching about God. We are this way because God is like this, and we are made in His image.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama. Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty. This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature. Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance. Music so enriches our lives. We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies. Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations. It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.

It is a question worth asking. Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature? Whenever I travelled in India I was always amazed at the Indian movies which feature music and dance even more than Western-made movies. Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted. It seldom asks: Why does music exist? There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence. But why do we love it? Because we find that it is beautiful. But why is it beautiful to us? This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.” (Daniel Dennett. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. p. 43)

The materialistic perspective on mankind has no answer to this fundamental question about our human nature. From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic. He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty. We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral capacity that is so common in all cultures, and which we covered in the moral teachings of the guru Sai Baba. Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is this way because this is the way He is. It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is. Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings. Take for example this challenge from the materialist American Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.” Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

Harris is dead wrong here. Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious. And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality – but being made in God’s moral image is a simple and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image. Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other. So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence people place on relationships. It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend. We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with. Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being. Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us. We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others. Again, as a frequent visitor to India this comes out so strongly in Indian movies. There always seems to be family and romantic relationships strongly portrayed in these movies.

Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do. The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8). Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) the two most important commands in the Bible. When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover. If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’, the ‘Benevolent Being’ or perhaps the ‘Impersonal Atman’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds. Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship. He does not ‘have’ love. He ‘is’ love. The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife. Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far. People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will. We are sentient and self-aware. We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not. We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms. And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others. We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image. All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation. We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.

 

 

What are your thoughts?