In this video, N.T. Wright considers what it means to be an image bearer of God. He suggests that what the book of Genesis and the apostle Paul mean by humans reflecting the image of God is less a static picture and more of a “creative, dynamic” proposition.
The picture I often use to help people understand what Genesis means by the image of God and indeed what Paul means by the image of God because he uses that as well, is the image of an angled mirror. We often think of an image as being a mirror. Here’s a mirror, I’m looking at it. I’m seeing myself. But suppose we have an angled mirror.
I remember when I was a small boy being ill in bed, and my mother lined up a mirror in the doorway of my room so that through that mirror I could see her and other family members coming and going in the hallway outside my room so that I didn’t feel so isolated and alone. And the point about the angled mirror is that you can see in both directions.
It seems to me that God has put humans like an angled mirror in His world so that God can reflect His love and care and stewardship of the world through humans and so that the rest of the world can praise the creator through humans. And the way this comes out in many Biblical passages is to see God’s people, you get this is Exodus 19, you get this in the Book of Revelation, you get it actually in Paul as well, see God’s people as the royal priesthood, the priesthood because they are summing up the praises of creation, presenting it before God.
When humans praise God, they ought to realize that they are doing so as the representatives of the whole world, reflecting the rest of the world to God. But when humans are looking after creation and bringing God’s healing restorative justice to creation in all sorts of different ways. There they are reflecting God into the world so that the image of God is not, I think, something about us, our memory or our conscious or our imagination or our spirituality or our reason, the theologians have tried all that as though there was something about us which is exactly like God.
No doubt, a lot of that is true, but I think it’s a much more creative, much more dynamic picture, the priests and the kings or kings and queens, reflecting God to the world and the world to God. I see the human vocation, the Christian vocation as being to recover, to recapture that image. Paul talks in Colossians about being renewed in knowledge, according to the image of the creator.
It seems to me if we actually looked at our own vocation vis-a-vis the world like that, all sorts of things about how we treat the world, how we act responsibly within it would appear in quite a different light which could be very healthy.