God's Own Image


The scripture in Genesis 1:27 has always fascinated me. It's well known, the first half reading "So God created man in his own image". This concept of man being made in God's image is one of the oldest pieces of theology in my memory, so it's a concept that I suppose strongly impacted my early childhood understanding of God and humanity. I can imagine a conversation taking place between mother and child:

What does God look like, Mummy?

Well... the Bible says we were made in His image, so He probably looks a lot like us.

I don't know if I ever actually had that conversation myself, but in the intervening years I've heard a handful of people teach on this subject and found no exposition or unpacking that has captured my attention as much as the concept itself has fascinated me. For me, it's a scripture that brings many competing, often childish, ideas to mind all at once:

  • Does God have a physical form that resembles a human? Does he look like some kind of gender-neutral Vitruvian man?

  • "Male and female he created them" indicates that God has both masculine and feminine characteristics... but in what capacity exactly? Does God have a penis? A vagina?

  • Is “God’s image” some kind of metaphysical metaphor?

I've always thought that God created us in His own image, therefor whatever our image is, must be God’s image. While that is valid reasoning to a degree, it’s also highly dangerous, because the reality of “our image” is seldom even understood ourselves. But I don’t think this scripture need be a puzzle anymore, as I’ll explain.

Our most readily visible “image”… or most obvious part of our nature, is our physical body, so when we ask the question of God’s image, we cannot but project our physical realm perspectives onto Him. But what is the most obvious part of God’s nature? Or perhaps, what is the most intrinsic, fundamental, and unique reality about God’s nature? I say that is his Trinitarian nature. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three-in-one. While there are a great many mysteries wrapped up in this, I think it’s the key to understanding “made in God’s image”.

Because humans are also Trinitarian by nature.

We have a body, soul, and spirit[1], and I believe this directly parallels the Holy Trinity, as follows:

  • Father God is the greatest soul there has ever been.

  • Jesus Christ is most glorious body there has ever been.

  • The Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of spirits", if you will.

While our understanding of body, soul and spirit is far from perfect, it can certainly inform on the nature of God in the Trinity, as can the Trinity inform on our nature as human beings.

Watchman Nee writes in The Normal Christian Life, "What the Father has devised concerning us, the Son has accomplished for us, and now the Holy Spirit communicates it to us." This paints a most beautiful and simple picture of the soul, body, and spirit of God in action. The soul is that which wills: it thinks, feels (emotion), conceives, devises, plans, and desires. The body is that which accomplishes: it goes, it does, it touches, it encounters. And the spirit is that which communicates: it speaks, it shows, it illuminates, it guides, it points-the-way. I've found that understanding this about God and about ourselves adds colour to so much scripture!

Let’s go back to the Garden. In the creation of Adam, we see God reaching out to produce a life-form after his own kind, following His own Trinitarian nature as the template. This is more easily seen in Genesis 1:26 "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves". Following this, critically, God creates a choice for Adam, by planting two trees from which Adam can choose to nourish himself. One tree triggers the onset of knowledge of good and evil, which is not a bad thing on it's own, since God has knowledge of good and evil, and He created it. But when placed in opposing position to the tree named Life, this other tree should raise some major flags for anyone in Adam’s position. Not to mention God expressly forbidding Adam to eat it.

Since one tree triggers knowledge, we know it’s the tree that feeds Adam’s soul. Plenty of other trees abound for Adam’s body, and so the Tree of Life is that one tree that would have fed Adam’s spirit. But the serpent offered a tasty proposition: you could become like God, knowing good and evil yourself. This exposes the incredible invitation that God had placed in front of Adam:

“Let me know good and evil for you. Let me be your guiding moral compass, accomplishing everything myself that I make necessary .”

God was not at war with Adam’s soul, but God’s hope was that Adam would nourish his spirit so that their connectedness might be the greater, and that God could fill the ultimate soul role. In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam & Eve rolled up their sleeves, primed the needle, and injected steroids deep into their souls. When they procreated, Adam could do not else but father a race of beings just like himself.

This helps us understand how a rapist, murderer like King David curried such unmatched favour with God. In 3000 years God had not yet found anyone that loved his Soul the way David did. Can you fathom that?! Noah re-fathered the human race, Abraham had faith like few others, Job was stalwart through incredible suffering, Moses was friend of God and faithful year after year... but not until David could the cry of our God be heard "THIS MAN LOVES ME FOR WHO I AM! HE LOVES MY SOUL MORE THAN HIS OWN! This man, this man, will be represented on my throne forever!" (I'm in tears as I write this.)

David's pursuit of God's soul was pockmarked and flawed but it was reincarnated with perfection by Jesus Christ.  He is the first human being that used the choosing power of his soul to let his Father be soul-prime for him, flawlessly & without exception. This is made abundantly clear when he says "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." (John 5:19) which is another insight to the body & soul relationship. Unless you suffer from a neurological and/or muscular disorder, your body won’t do anything that your soul hasn't first conceived. Jesus Christ is the first of a new species of human being who's chosen his spirit to be nourished more than his soul, trusting in the Soul that is greater. Consider now the massive weight of the statement in Philippians 2:6 "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to."

Back to the Garden, and another quote from Watchman Nee, “Adam was created a living soul, with a spirit inside to commune with God, and a body outside to have contact with the material world”.  God's creation of a soul that could rival His own was the greatest calculated risk in history.[2] I can’t prove this from scripture, but I suspect that angels lack souls; they’re clearly spiritual, but they seem to lack some aspect of the planning, choosing, desiring, will-ing  nature that we possess as our birthright. Here’s the clincher: we were created at all, not because God had too few people to worship him, but because his Son had no one on whom to lavish the outrageous love that his Father modeled to him. In humanity’s creation, the Father sought to bring into existence a worthy Bride for his Son, and nothing, nothing, less than the potential to “be like God” would be worthy for His Son. [3]

A soul was always what God wanted, but a soul that would choose to submit itself to its own spirit, thus enabling life-giving communication via His Spirit to a greater Soul. The core paradigm of fatherhood is re-creating your nature in a new other, and that is just what the Father did, as the Soul of God, when he created the soul of Adam.

All of this has practical ramifications for us today, because it reaffirms the way we can relate to God, the purpose of life, and how we accomplish it living by the Spirit. The whole package that the Father purposed and his Son, The Word, created for Adam is incredible:

  • Live in this beautiful garden. Eat of the Tree of Life, which is to say, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

  • Go and name all the animals. You will learn incredible things about my character as you study them and the way I care for them.

  • I haven’t taught you right from wrong. I haven’t even taught you to read! Leave all that to me. By the way, let’s take a stroll around 5pm. [4]

  • While you’re out there during the day, take the garden with you and paradise the whole planet. Since you’re on foot, I imagine it will take you a few millennia. 5pm works for me in every time zone.

  • Make babies! I'm throwing my Son the biggest party this universe will ever see.

The only way that Adam could accomplish his task (paradising the planet to make living space for a race of Bride-components for the Son of God), was to let his soul pump liquid hot creativity, exploration, and tenacity (or sisu, as we say in Finland) directly into his veins, while he turbo-charged his spirit connection to the uber-Soul by consuming the fruit of the tree of life. Talk about a job description! And a run-on sentence!

But Adam chose the lesser way, the same way you and I choose when we act out our secular humanist role of wise adjudicators of right and wrong. So the Great Soul we call Abba Father conceived a plan, shrouded it in mystery, and stepped onto the earth in Body to accomplish it. The Holy Spirit now tells us that the same terms originally offered to Adam are once again ours:

“Submit your souls to your innermost spirit, and become filled with my Spirit! Now live, with a certain quiet trust that My soul knows good from evil, and will produce in you all of the right behaviour and the right fruit at the right time. With that as your foundational reality, your soul can dream, love, explore, relate, and re-produce after itself as I always intended. Go paradise the planet, my Son is lovesick for his Bride!



[1] Paul confirms this in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and Hebrews 4:12.

[2] I don't believe that we can actually rival God's soul, in terms of competition, but I do believe we have absolutely outrageous potential, unchecked. Hear the concern in God's voice in Genesis 3:22!

[3] I originally wrote "would be woman enough for his Son". I like it, but it might be confusing. But I wonder, there may be something there regarding why Eve ate the fruit first, and Adam second. I wonder if there was just a slightly deeper the pull within Eve to become that worthy Bride herself. Something that Adam wasn’t quite as intrinsically sensitive to. But that’s for another day, and perhaps a different writer.

[4]. “The cool of the day”. It’s a joke.