The book of Genesis tells us, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
So what does it mean, to be made “in the image of God?” Ultimately this is a mystery that means more than we know, but let’s explore a few things that are self-evident.
We can reason. This is something that makes us different from the animals! At least most of the time, right? :) It is obvious that even though some animals can perform certain basic skills of differentiation, there is a clear difference between those skills and instincts, and reason. God has given us the ability, like Himself, to think through problems, to sort data and to analyze it, and a multitude of other things.
We can imagine. In a similar (not exactly the same) way as God, we can create things. Actually, to be more precise, we can be sub-creators. We can’t actually make matter out of nothing, like God can. However, we can imagine all kinds of possibilities of putting various things together to make something—whether that is wood and nails, paint and canvas, transistors and capacitors, or flour and sugar—we can imagine and make things!
Male and female are both part of who God is. First, this does not mean that male and female are the same thing. They are two different, complementary parts of a whole. Each of the differences of what it means to be male and what it means to be female complement each other and round each other out. However, the fullness of maleness and femaleness is true in God. Since God made male and female in His image, that means that God has and is all the attributes of masculinity and femininity…yet, He chose to refer to Himself as “Him”, Father, Son, etc.—this is a mystery that we could explore our whole lives!
We have a will. This seems to be the pinnacle of what it means to be made in the image of God, and it has huge ramifications. For us to be able to truly love, we have to have a choice. Otherwise, we would just be robots, or simple animals. This means, though, that not only could we choose to love, we could choose not to love. Wait a minute! That seems awful! It is true, there are huge consequences to choices…but none has paid more dearly for this than God Himself. He took all of our hatred, suffering, and death upon Himself to atone for our sin, our choice to reject Him. But apparently, He knew it was worth it! As the singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson writes, “Maybe it’s a better thing, a better thing, to be more than merely innocent, but to be broken, then redeemed by love.” It is a better thing! As terrible as it is, it is a better thing to have the capacity to love, and all the consequences that go with it, than not to be able to love at all. We have to, we need to choose love.
So, in the end, what does it mean to be made in the image of God? It means that we can give and receive love, we can be in love—with God, and others! That is truly amazing.