What Does Created in God’s Image Mean?

In memory of Gilbert Flagler Adams, (December 23, 1923 – April 15, 2018) 


The first chapter of Genesis teaches that God creates human beings, “in the image of God” (verse 26). People often ask, “What does that mean”

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):

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.”

Jewish tradition teaches 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 God-like way, we have the power to think, analyze, communicate and shape our environment in a manner far beyond other creatures.

In our Holy Day prayerbook, Gates of Repentance (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 is that we use our power to help create on this planet a more just, caring and compassionate society than exists today.  But we – not God – will decide if we choose to do so or not.