God created Man to live on the Earth, in the image of God. Since we know God is spirit rather than physical, that image cannot be our form and it must be something else. Since Adam and Eve were barred from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, I suspect our intellect isn’t what constitutes that image.
I prefer the conclusion that the image in which we were and are made is the character of God. Man is made with his most innate desires and values matching those of God. Throughout Scripture we are called to become like Christ, we are pointed toward the fruit of the Spirit, we are told to imitate God. I believe we are urged in this direction not because it is so foreign to us, but because they actually describe how we are made to live. If we raise our children in our image or likeness, it isn’t that we have two feet or that we can work logic questions. Most importantly, raising our kids in our image has more to do with the way we see the world, other people, and life values. This makes most sense to me and fits with the larger story in Scripture.
But in our creation we were not formed totally given over to those values. This I believe is because God doesn’t want people who are hardwired to do only what he wants. Rather, God wants people who are compassionate because they want to be compassionate. In fact, compulsory compassion isn’t compassion. We can only learn patience by being in situations that require patience and being given the choice about whether to be patient or not. We are here to learn and to live like God among others also made to do the same.
In the Old Testament we see this process evidenced. God routinely reminds Israel that he has chosen them but not because they are anything special, but in order to demonstrate the graciousness of God. He chooses Israel not to be a great kingdom but to his presence in the world – a nation what would live his image among the nations. Israel’s job was to introduce others to God and to be an example of God’s care and interest in the world. When Israel is condemned, it is for one of two reasons. Either they have decided to follow other gods, or they have failed to live in the character of God. Interestingly, when God condemns other nations he doesn’t do so primarily because they follow other gods, but rather for their behavior arising from arrogance and meanness. When any country is condemned in Scripture there is some aspect of having not lived in the image in which they were made.
It’s important to note that even though God chose Israel, that did not keep him from wiping them out, from sending them away from him, and killing them. Staying with God is not something God makes or hardwires Israel to do even though he wants a nation of his people. This is in keeping with our premise that God wants a nation of people who actually want to be his people rather than people who have to because he makes them. He is on record promising to recall them back to him eventually. God does bring Israel back to him on a number of occasions. His final promise though is to call all nations to himself, not just Israel.
This promise to bring all people to himself brings us full circle from the Creation. Man – all people – are made in God’s image and were made to live in that image. This final promise of God to bring all people to himself, rather than just one nation, ushers in a worldwide people living in the image in which they are made to live.
When God says he has chosen Israel, it isn’t because God is only interested in Israel. Rather, Israel’s purpose is to bless the world by ushering them into the presence of God. This purpose because God really does and always has wanted all people to live as he has made them to live. The choosing is not an exclusive choosing but a choice for a specific purpose. That purpose is the rest of the world.
In the New Testament we have the same theme. Jesus’ condemnation of people isn’t so much that they have chosen the wrong god, but that their lives do not reflect the image of God. Additionally, the Jewish leaders are castigated not because they had the wrong God (they clearly had the correct one), but because they failed to internalize the life of God. A simple reading of the Sermon on the Mount and the latter epistles of Paul and John are instructive here. An early heresy seems to have been the Gnostic dualism that threatened to separate body from soul, justifying debauchery for believers. This simply cannot be according to John and Paul if we are to live as though we are the image of God (and we are).
God has sent Jesus for a number of reasons. One of which is to demonstrate God’s love for the entire world – not part of it. We are told that God so loved the world; that Jesus’ coming was so that the world might be saved through him. We are told that whoever believes in Jesus will be accepted by God. This belief isn’t so much an intellectual decision but a recognizing of God and a desire to live in that same way. To believe in Jesus is to identify with Jesus for your own life.
Another reason Jesus came to live among us was to provide for us an object lesson about the life we are called to live. This life is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit; of living as God would if he were in your body. This living though isn’t about being made to; about having to so live because God makes you or will kill you if you don’t. Rather it is living this life because we actually buy into it. We come to own the same values and desires of God for those around us. Life becomes in fact, less about ourselves and more about others.
When we read Scripture, we must understand particular passages in light of the overall story. If our interpretation of a particular passage doesn’t fit with the larger purposes of God, we must have sufficient discipline to review our understanding of those passages.