What does it mean to be made “in the image and likeness of God”?


We hear this all the time, right? “You are made in the image and likeness of God.” Intuitively we realize that we are supposed to derive some sense of dignity or selfworth from this fact, but do any of us really know why? What does it actually mean to be made in God’s image and likeness?

Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. We are like him because He is our Creator and he endowed us with gifts that no other creatures possess. This doesn’t mean that Adam somehow looked like God. After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and therefore invisible. Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death. The resemblance however is primarily in man’s spirit.

It is this spirit that sets man apart from the animal world, and places him in dominion over the earth. Only man has the capacity to reason, to make moral decisions, and to intimately commune with God and his fellow man. This spirit that God gave man, and man alone, granted to him a mental, moral, and social likeness with God. Mentally, man was created as a rational, volitional (or “willful”) being. In other words, man can reason and man can choose. This is a reflection of God’s own intellect and freedom.

Morally, man was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all that He had made and called it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state.

Socially, man was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature as a community of Persons and the love that is shared between these Persons. In Eden, man’s primary relationship was with God and God made the first woman because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18).

It is no small thing what God has done in allowing us to have a share in his divine attributes. God raises us up by making us more like Him and allowing us to participate in His divine life. He has given mankind the capacity to actually have a personal relationship with Him! No other creature can boast of such a thing. That is why we recall our status as creatures made in God’s image and likeness whenever a certain segment of mankind is being marginalized or whenever a person acts as though he has no dignity or worth. There is great dignity in having God as our source and in being His greatest creation! How can we disrespect other human beings or forget our own inherent value in light of that truth?

Peace of Christ to you,

Nicholas Hardesty,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church

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