Imago Dei – by Christopher Ackerman

It would be a fascinating task to take to the streets of a major metropolitan city and ask the multitudes to share their opinions on the image of God. The responses would likely paint the portrait of a white man with a brown beard and long, wavy brown hair (especially if the person answering considers themselves a Christian). If the person answering is Hindu, it is quite possible that an elephant head may accompany their description (Allard). Others, especially nowadays, may label God as him, her, or even they/them. Ultimately, quite a few (if not the majority) would describe God as beautiful, flawless, and perhaps even perfect. The question remains – What (or who) is the image of God (Imago Dei)? The image of God from a Christian perspective, albeit a perspective that will not support the opinion of all Christians, will be represented in what follows.

Imagine the pain one might experience when their newborn does not fit into what many perceive to be the image of God. They excitedly await the arrival of the precious child that will one day run for the glory of God and when their child is born, the doctor shares, “I am sorry, but your son has no legs.” The joy of expectancy becomes an experience of tragedy (Whitt 208; 210). As Whitt compassionately supports, “This experience of tragedy … is not foreign to Christian families. They share many of the same dreams for their children” (208). Beyond the realization of coming to terms with the fact that their child is different, many may question if their child is “sub-human,” or somehow did not make the list of those who are made in the image of God (Beates 115; Whitt 210). Whitt asserts, “This account opens the door for challenges that such lives are not worth living because they cannot flourish in the ways that define humanity” (210).

The pain is real, but what if the image of God has little to do with one’s physical appearance or intellectual capabilities and everything to do with God, and His gracious gift to His creation (Whitt 211-212, 215; cf. 1 Cor. 12.21-27)? Reynolds tosses a challenging curve ball, encouraging the church to look beyond the horizon, “It is crucial to observe that the Genesis account never precisely defines what the image of God is” (Reynolds 178; cf. Whitt 209). Piper takes it a step further, “Evidence for determining the precise way the Genesis writer used the phrase, ‘in the image of God,’ is simply not available” (Piper 11; see also 15). Those are heavy-loaded considerations that force the church to dive a bit deeper and dig a bit harder. Reynolds presses on, “it is perhaps most instructive to widen our lenses to interpret these passages in light of the creation account as a whole, focusing on the character of God’s creative doings in order to access what it means to be human in this image” (Reynolds 179; emphasis added).

A slight sidestep is in order for the sake of perspective. Beates challenges the church to peer into the eyes of the one in the mirror, “while we are all made in God’s image, we are all weak and broken, and only in admitting and embracing that reality in ourselves and in others more overtly and existentially afflicted will we come to know most fully the liberating and transforming power of the gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ” (Beates 119). What a piercing consideration for those who only see God’s image through the public opinion of perfection. Every created being, from Abraham to Elon Musk, is marred by sin, thus, placing all created beings on a level playing field (Rom. 3.23). Wink asserts, “All people, regardless of how they score on the popularity rating of ‘normalcy,’ are of infinite value, are infinitely treasured, and are infinitely interesting … those with disabilities are a continual accusation to those who have sold their souls to normalcy” (120). Therefore, the church must consider what they can learn about the image of their Sculptor through every piece of shattered clay.

What if the image of God was inherent in every human being, as a gift from God to His creation; a gift that was and is meant to be shared with all for the good of all? Reynolds presents three thought-provoking suggestions for reimagining the image of God, “To be created in the image of God means to be created for contributing to the world, open to the call to love others. Three dimensions are implied: creativity with others, relation to others, and availability for others” (Reynolds 177; see also 179). That is fascinating, as the image of God moves beyond physical appearance to how the world can embrace the Gift (and image) of God in all created beings. As Whitt asserts, “When the imago Dei is recognized as a gift … an account of human being opens which leaves none as morally questionable. Every human exists always as a recipient of God’s continual gift of being and of image in us” (Whitt 211; see also 212). Furthermore, Whitt celebrates the inclusion of those with disabilities in the life and work of the church, and in so doing, “congregations affirm that within the body of Christ people whom society dismisses as merely vulnerable and dependent have their own gifts and mission for the good of the kingdom of God” (214; see also 215; cf. Piper 10). Beates encourages, “If we’re not a welcoming place, we’re going to miss out on these gifts and talents” (120). To which I would humbly add, gifts and talents that represent the image of God on earth.

In closing, there is perhaps a no better place to end than in consideration of the thought-provoking lyrics of “Image of God,” by We Are Messengers, “Seven billion voices separate us. But only one can show us who we are. We are – made – made in the image of – made in the image of God – beautiful shades of love” (“We Are Messengers – Image of God (Official Lyric Video)” 00:30-00:52). What if the vibrant colors on the canvas of God’s image reveal the way the church loves, interacts with, and welcomes the uniqueness of God spread across the landscape of His created beings? Imago Dei is revealed through the uniqueness of all mankind.

Works Cited

Allard, Syama. “5 Things to Know about Ganesha.” Hindu American Foundation, 16 June 2020,

Beates, Michael S. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Crossway, 2012.
The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001.

Piper, John. “The Image of God: An Approach from Biblical and Systematic Theology.” Studia Biblica et Theologica, 1971.

Reynolds, Thomas E. Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2008.

“We Are Messengers – Image of God (Official Lyric Video).” Youtube, uploaded by We Are Messengers, 11 September 2020,

Whitt, Jason D. “In the image of God: Receiving children with special needs.” R&E, 113.2, 2016, pp. 205-216.

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