(According to the hit-stats on my posts, calling myself a tree-hugger is much more interesting than calling you God’s idol.)
As a human made to represent God to the entire cosmos, you bear aspects of his character and attributes; you are responsible for the earth, the sea, and everything in them; and you are created to exist in community.
Community—that all-to-popular Christian buzzword—is not the ‘what kind’ of image (character), nor is it the ‘occupation’ of image (responsibility), but it is the ‘how’ of the image, or the ‘where’ of the image, or any number of dialectical terms with their own emphases: mode, accident, circumstance. Regardless of which you prefer (I’ll be using how and mode), Scripture is clear that the context of imago Dei is communal. We’re going to work backwards for this one: from man toward God.
Man: Genesis 1
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them”
Notice that created humanity is listed as imago Dei collectively. That is to say that creating in the image of God nearly necessitates multiplicity/plurality. The last clause “male and female he created them” seems to be apposite (parallel-explanatory) of the former “he created him.” There is further evidence in God’s intent (v.26) when God expresses his plan to create: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…”
In fact, the spousal (communal) aspect of Genesis 1 is so important that the Holy Spirit, guiding Moses, writes an entire discourse on their creation particularly (Genesis 2). In this account, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Seems pretty blatantly community-driven. God proceeds to bring all the animals to Adam to name. This would imply that although community is the mode of imago Dei, being solitary does not reduce you to being something less since Adam can still exercise kindly-occupation/character-responsibility. Nonetheless, it is not good for man to be alone and without human counterpart. God purposed to build community, causing Adam to sleep and forming woman. The conclusion of the chapter extols the blessing of marriage and the honor of severing one social-dimension (heritage) for another (covenant).
It is to this pair of humans imago Dei that our God tells to build larger communities: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
Man: Genesis 5
What do man and woman do? They follow God’s instruction and build a community. Genesis 5 is the account of their ‘fruit.’ A genealogy in itself means that more humans have existed, and when humans exist, there is need of their birth (family community) and need of their marriage/sexual union (marital community).
Man: Genesis 9
God blesses Noah after the flood and reiterates the command for community building: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But God continues further and explains that man must exist in right relationship with one another upon threat of judgment:
“And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow and I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it (Gen.9.5-7).
As if man didn’t understand that they were intended to bear children. But these children are not simply children for bodies’ sake. “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you’” (Gen.9.9). (Note: this covenant is also given to the animals.) So man and woman are intended not just for children but for the promulgation of covenantal living: humans under the decrees of God with equal responsibility for encouraging ethical cohabitation upon planet earth.
Man: James 3
The brother of Jesus simply assumes communal-living. As we all do. And when we come into contact with other humans, we tend to communicate with words. James convicts us by explaining that even if we praise God with our lips, the same lips curse those like him—denying proper covenantal living. In fact, one of James’ themes is precisely that you cannot claim to love the invisible God when his visible representatives you hate.
We exist in community, and in community our image-ness finds expression in faithfulness or rebellion. How do you most concretely show the character of God? By living rightly with others.
So how does man living in community express who God is? Couldn’t these claims simply be explained by God creating multiple humans? Except that God exists in Trinity. This understanding of God is more prevalent in the New Testament, but is by no means absent in Genesis:
Let us make man in our image after our likeness. (Genesis 1)
…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 1)
With it [the mouth] we bless our Lord and Father. (James)
Of the three, only the second is really controversial, and yet the wind/breath/spirit word in Hebrew and Greek can play double-entendre to express a subsurface concept. The quote from James lists “Lord” which is most often accorded to the Jesus and the term “Father” which is almost exclusively attributed to the first person of the Godhead.
If God is Trinity, he has existed in Trinity eternally. If God’s Triune being is essential to his nature as Yahweh, then what better way to represent this eternal creator-king than in community—as he has been eternally? This is also why we must interact appropriately with other humans. Our communities should mirror the intratrinitarian community: perfect and flawless selfless-selfish glorifying love.
As God’s idol, you show forth God’s character by caretaking the earth alongside your brothers in unified love.
Dignity and Depravity