As I recover I continue to seek inspiration and new insights in some of the essays I have previously posted. This piece presents my answer to one of the questions I am most frequently asked
It certainly does not mean that we look like God. It means that of all the creatures on earth we have the most God-like powers. It means that we human beings are in charge of and responsible for life on this planet. It is an awesome responsibility with which God has entrusted us.
God charges us: (Genesis 1:28)
פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ וכבשה
ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים
ובכל-חיה הרמשת על-הארץ
My rendering of this passage is: Be fruitful and multiply fill up the earth and take responsibility for it. And rule compassionately over the fish of the sea the birds of the air and all the living things that creep on the earth.”
My translation reflects the midrashic teaching (Bereshit Rabbah 8:11) that we human beings stand midway between God and all the other animals on earth.
Like the animals we eat, drink, sleep, eliminate our waster, procreate and die. But in a godlike way, we have the power to think, analyze, communicate and shape our environment in a manner far beyond other creatures.
In Gates of Repentance’ afternoon service for Yom Kippur (p. 415) we find a magnificent liturgical expression of what it means to be created in the divine Image:
We were unlike other creatures.
Not for us the tiger’s claws,
the elephant’s thick hide,
or the crocodile’s scaly armor.
To the gazelle we were slow of foot,
To the lioness a weakling,
And the eagle thought us bound to earth.
But You gave us powers they could not comprehend:
a skillful hand,
a probing mind…
a soul aspiring to know and fulfill its destiny
Being created in the divine image means that we humans are the only creatures on earth who can mine ore from the side of a mountain, turn the ore into iron and the iron into steel and from that steel forge the most delicate of instruments with which to operate on a human brain or an open heart. But we are also the only creatures on earth that can go to that same mountain, mine the same ore turn it into iron and steel to make bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill or maim. Being created in God’s image means we have awesome, earth enhancing or earth shattering power.
God’s hope in creating us in the divine image is that we use our power to help create on this planet a more just, caring and compassionate society than exists today.
But we have free will!
We-–not God—will decide if we choose to do so or not.
5 thoughts on “What Does “Created in God’s Image” Mean?”
“Being created in the divine image means that we humans are the only creatures on earth who can mine ore from the side of a mountain, turn the ore into iron and the iron into steel and from that steel forge the most delicate of instruments with which to operate on a human brain or an open heart. But we are also the only creatures on earth that can go to that same mountain, mine the same ore turn it into iron and steel to make bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill or maim.”
Wow, Stephen. Truly powerful words that I will use my God-like powers to think upon and analyze.
Thank you for going There. For being informative, but tenderly so.
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Thank you so much, Dani, for noticing my thoughts! Your trip t Orlando and family reads better than 100 tours of Hawaii!
I would love to learn your interpretation of “our image. ” I took a stab at that once and wrote about it. I don’t know if it was any good.
I have written bout this, Lisa, but it does not seem to be on my computer. Hopefully, Cheryl can lay hands on a copy in the office. Or we can discuss it in person.
Yes, the human animal has abilities and knowledge that the other animals do not. But, the other animals have abilities and knowledge that the human animal does not. And, yes, humans do much to claim and manipulate the Earth and it’s contents. But humans are also the only animals that foul their own nest and destroy and kill for fun. Nature (God) will survive. But It may have to get rid of the human animal to do it. (And, BTW, yes, humans are animals. We only have 3 choices…animal, vegetable or mineral.)