Human beings bear the image of God. This is what sets us apart from other creatures including the angels in heaven. It is a fact that is slightly illustrated by the resemblance that exists between a parent and a child. At some point in our lives, we must have had someone notice some striking resemblance between us and either of our parents.
Ever heard anyone say to a parent ‘you really look like your child’? No? It is often said the other way round because the child gets his/her features from the parent. It is completely sound to call a child who resembles any of their parent ‘a chip of the old block’. It is unheard of to describe a parent as the ‘block of the new chip’. It doesn’t make sense even literally.
That is how we sound when we want to force God into classifications of human beings either by nationality, race or sex. No human being chose their parents or had the privilege of molding and sculpting the physical features of their parents. It is rather the child that is molded and sculpted after the image of their parents. It is the same with God.
In Genesis, for two chapters we are given the account of the creation story. God calls forth the plants, animals etc. and they come into existence. When it got to the turn of man, God said ‘Let us make man in our own image and in our likeness…’. God indeed set out to create a being that would bear his image, his likeness and have dominion over creation. Genesis goes on to state a very important truth that we must bear in mind as we move on. It said ‘… male and female he created them’.
This is interesting. It means no single sex owns the rights to the image of God. Not males. Not females. Both men and women equally bear the image of God. Therefore, none of us has the right to claim we are better image bearers of God or we bear God’s image in a greater measure than another person because of our sex. He made us all in his image.
The bible states that God is not a man. ‘Man’ here doesn’t necessarily mean male but human. Jesus also tells us that ‘God is spirit…’. One of the major reasons why God made the two sexes is, reproduction. We are sure of this because the first command God gave to Adam and Eve is to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…’. To the best of my knowledge, we are not told anywhere in scripture that spirit beings reproduce. Spirit beings are not sexual beings. So is it right to classify God who is spirit as either male or female?
The Incarnation of Christ
God made men and women in his image and this is a fact that cannot be disputed because it has been emphatically stated in scripture. However, the incarnation of THE WORD, Jesus Christ, poses a bit of a problem for us so far as this topic is concerned. Not only that but the fact that Jesus referred to God while he was on earth as his father. Also, the Bible describes Jesus as the express image of the invisible God, so if Jesus is a male then are we to assume God is a male too?
This is what I have to say to that, sex (male and female) only came into existence when God created living things. The Bible describes God as the God who was, who is and who is to come. God existed way before he made anything material. He decided to come down as one of the two sexes and reveal himself to us as the father. That is it. However, how do we understand this truth in light of the already stated fact that women too are made in the image of God?
From the get-go, the Jews knew Jesus was going to be a male because of Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah said ‘unto us, a child is born, unto us, a son is given’. Jesus being a man is a fact that transcends time. For when he died he died as a man when he resurrected he did so as a man. A man who could be touched and felt. He even sat and ate with his disciples when he resurrected. Also, he is God. So we are very confident about the sex of Jesus.
Concerning God, the first person of the Trinity, he has revealed himself to us as the Father. This is also a fact that we cannot overlook in this discussion. The Trinity is made up of three distinct personalities and we know that Jesus was incarnated as a man amongst the three. Therefore it is Jesus’ sex (both on earth and in eternity) we are 100% percent sure of. There is no contradiction in the fact that God made both men and women in his image, came down as a man and has revealed himself to us as the father.
To state that this is a contradiction is to say God’s entire being can ONLY be expressed as a male. Or that God exhausted his entire nature in his coming to earth as a man. And this is rather a contradiction of what is stated in Genesis regarding God making both men and women in his image and after his likeness. This tells us that bearing the image of God goes beyond sex and any human classification. To bear God’s image is to literally have his DNA and his imprint on you.
Whether you are a man or a woman once you find yourself on this earth you are made in God’s image and likeness. So yes, we are sure of the fact that Jesus is male, God is revealed to us as the father and lastly, both men and women are made in the image of God. This is to say that men get their maleness from God and women get their femaleness from God.
The Idolatry of having a wrong image of God
“People are not allowed to make images of God because he already made images of himself – the Bible Project (Image of God)”
Paul makes a very important statement in his letter to the Corinthians that addresses the topic under discussion. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:16 that ‘Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more’. The new creation realities are in reference to the regenerated spirit, not the flesh. So when a man comes to the saving knowledge of Christ we say he is born again, not his body but his spirit.
Therefore, we regard no man after the flesh but we know each man in spirit or we regard each person as spirit. Paul says if in the past we knew Christ after the flesh, we do so no more. Jesus is not a man that we have deified but rather he is God who came down to this earth as a man. There are people who raise who Jesus was on earth above his deity or they simply have little or no regard at all for his deity. Some say he was merely a moral teacher, others see him as a Jewish mythological character and some others see him as an ancient street magician. What a poor way to regard Jesus Christ!
Spoken Word poet Jackie Hill-Perry said ‘we have to understand God rightly to know him intimately’ and I agree with her. We have to endeavor to know God rightly to worship him rightly. Take for example someone who believes God listens to prayers only on Wednesdays. This person would have to wait until it is Wednesday to pray to God because perhaps according to his theology God is asleep for the rest of the week.
But we know the truth because we are told in scripture that He who watches over Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers, meaning he is accessible all day every day. You can create a caricature of God and worship it because you are not well-informed and lack revelation of who he truly is. This is idolatry.
Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:23 that some men thought of themselves as wise not knowing they were fools and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds etc. The first stage of idolatry is to change the image of God into something else.
The concept of idolatry is more nuanced than we make it out to be. Most times it is more mental, psychological, intellectual than it is spiritual and physical. For some of us so far as we don’t have a physical object in our rooms that we pray to in earnest spirituality, we assume we don’t engage in idolatry. When your understanding of who God is is far from the truth, however you are still devoted to that false image of God in worship, you are an idolater. We have to know God for who he is and not for what we want him to be or what we wish he was.
I say this because I’ve seen people raise concerns about the place of women in the Christian faith because Jesus came down to the world as a man and the fact that God has revealed himself to us as a father. I’ve also seen some people claim that men are superior to women because they believe men bear God’s image in a greater measure than women. Both groups of people do not take into consideration what is said about men and women being made in the image of God in the book of Genesis.
Basically, the first group is trying to create God in their own image. The second is exalting males over females because God came down to earth as a male and has revealed himself to us as a father. By insisting on putting God into a human classification that we belong to and refusing to worship him until it is universally accepted as such, we are saying until God is made in our image, he isn’t worthy of our worship. Until God looks like us, we won’t worship him. That, my friends, is idolatry. It is not God we desire to worship it is our nature.
Exalting yourself above others because of your sex for any reason at all (including the misinterpretation of scripture) is sexism. This too is idolatry. When we do this, we worship our maleness and not God. This kind of thinking is based on a lie that the revelation of God as a father and his incarnation as the Son is a fact that makes men generally superior to women.
Paul said, ‘…there is neither male nor female… for we are all one in Christ’. This doesn’t mean that there is no sex/gender in Christ, rather it implies that the unifying factor in Christianity far outweighs the physical, features that may distinguish us.
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