Looking Like God

By H. Boone Porter

The first chapter of the Bible puts before us the creation of all living things. Life is of astonishing variety, in the water, on land, and in the air. The shapes of animals, their habits, needs, and ways of meeting their needs, and the relation of animals to plants, represent an almost endless series of balanced combinations. In some ways, modern biological science has given us more knowledge of this than people ever had before. On the other hand, more primitive folk, living close to nature, had an intimate and firsthand awareness of it which we lack. Of course the 31 verses of chapter one do not undertake to describe the whole of animal or plant life: they seek rather to suggest it, to remind us of it, to bring before the eyes of our mind the wonder, the richness, and the beauty of living things. 

Amidst all the animate creatures, so diverse in size, shape, color, and gait, one kind is different. The man and woman cannot run so fast as other long-legged animals. They are weaker than animals half their size. Their teeth and claws are pathetic as weapons. Unlike their furry neighbors, they are naked. Yet they alone, as they stand up conspicuously, with their eyes focused ahead, and their hands free to seize, shape, mold, and use what they encounter —they alone, the man and the woman, look like God. 

That is indeed a conversation stopper. What can one say next? THis amazing idea at the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:27) is one to ponder: we and our ancestors have been pondering it for thousands of years. 

Of course people look like other things too. We are like animated pots, the second chapter of Genesis humorously suggests. We are rather closely related to apes, as anyone who has recently been to a zoo has probably noticed. People have been compared to trees, rocks, and so forth. But the serious thing is that in some sense or other we were made in the image and likeness of God. To understand about human beings, you have to know that.

One way to deal with this is to explore the abstract and theoretical sense of the words image and likeness. Perhaps image means one thing and likeness means something else. Perhaps they refer to the creative powers which man, in some humble way, shares with God. Perhaps they refer to man’s power over other animals. Perhaps they refer to our reason, our conceptualizing and rational minds, or our powers to make moral judgements and choices—in other words, our freedom. Philosophers and theologians have expounded all these possibilities.

To some extent no doubt all these interpretations contain truths, although let us not forget that our inner and outer selves are very closely related. Our minds developed as they did in part at least because we have stereoscopic vision, because our mouths (unimpaired by fangs) can articulate complicated audible signals, and because our hands can manipulate what is around us. Perhaps this is suggested and poetically alluded to in the brief lines of Genesis. Certainly the Hebrews had a very unified view of man as an animated creature, with body and soul closely tied together. 

Yet we return to the story of creation and encounter the fact that in the first instance, at the simplest level, it means that the man and the woman somehow looked like God— embarrassing, puzzling, or frightening as that may be. All animals reflect the Creator’s power and wisdom. All in some way give evidence of his greatness and glory. Yet the man and women alone have a personal similarity to him. 

This is rather like those old-fashioned stories in which a ragged waif is suddenly recognized as looking like the king, and so is discovered to be the long lost prince. Or like Cinderella, the dirty girl who cleans the fireplace, who is recognized as the sweetheart of the great lord. Although we are covered with a dirt worse than ashes, although it will take many an ordeal to bring us back home, God calls you and me to the discovery that we, even we ourselves, are to be made heirs of the kingdom. He has recognized us even though we have not recognized ourselves or one another. 

“Therefore it says ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’” (Eph. 5:14)

Even so come, come to us now, Emmanuel!

The Rev. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was printed in our November 27, 1977 issue.

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