What does it mean that we are made in the image and likeness of God?
It means we were made to be relational beings. A majority of scholars and theologians agree on this.
- The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity recognizes God is one God, co-existing in three distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- This is clearly taught in the scriptures and has been recognized by the Church since the second century.
- These three persons of the Trinity are forever in perfect relationship with each other. There has always been and always will be absolute love, joy, harmony, and peace within the Godhead.
The very essence of God is relational and that essential quality has been imprinted on humans.
We Can’t Fully Flourish by Ourselves
Professor Darrell Johnson notes in his book Experiencing the Trinity:
At the center of the universe is a relationship. This is the most fundamental truth I know. At the center of the universe is a community. It is out of that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed. And it is for that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed!
As God’s redeemed people today, the key to the flourishing we so deeply long for can only be found in a right relationship with God, one that is established for us through Jesus Christ.
It is only then we can understand we were made to be stewards of the King, and through that stewardship we bring about true flourishing that makes a difference in the lives of others as well as our own.
This is because as our relationship with God is restored, we can fully realize right relationships with one another and with the rest of creation.
It is in this realm that we are called to bring about flourishing through our work in our families, in our communities, and in our vocations. This is the work God has called us to do in order to bring glory to himself.
Andy Crouch writes in Culture Making that God created a world “designed for the flourishing of exquisitely relational creatures, male and female, who themselves are very good because they bear the image of a relational God.”
The Myth of Independence
This idea of being made in the image of God introduces a strange paradox.
Although we are all made the same, in the image of God, we are still all very different. God gave each of us unique personalities, skills, talents, and passions.
The Apostle Paul provides us with some insight about how our different skills and talents are actually the gifts God gives us and the mechanisms that bring us into community with one another.
Paul writes in Romans 12:4-7:
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.
Our culture picks up on this idea that we are all created very differently and has developed a narrative comprised of concepts like “rugged individualism,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “every man for himself.”
As Christians, while acknowledging our dependence upon God, we have bought into the idea pushed by the culture that independence is an ultimate virtue.
This idea of independence is a myth.
Despite these cultural narratives, the truth is our very existence is dependent on our interdependence.
How long would you last if you had to go out tomorrow and hunt or grow your own food?
Consider Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Castaway, who is stranded on a beautiful desert island.
Although independent in the truest sense, he struggles through the movie as he deals with the hardships of surviving in isolation. He has to provide for all of his physical needs by himself.
He did not experience flourishing. At one point he realizes he will die if he does not get off the island.
This gives us a sense of what our lives would be like if we had to live without community.
The Very Fabric of Creation
Independence is not taught in the Bible. Rather, the Bible emphasizes the interdependence of community.
Scripture calls us to connect from the very beginning, not only with God, but with those around us, too.
To be sure, we as individuals are called to play an individual part in the biblical narrative, but for the most part we do our work in the context of community. We can’t flourish any other way.
This is true because we are made to be in relationship. And we are made to be in relationship because we are made in the image of God.
God intentionally made his creation diverse. His design from the very beginning was for us to work together in relationship.
In this way we can achieve much more working together than we can individually. This is a core biblical principle that is woven into the very fabric of creation.