Who are you? You might answer this question by describing your job, family, abilities, or hobbies – I’m a piano teacher with 5 home-Ed siblings, I love music, dance, baking, bonfires and fairy lights, and I’m good at everything except passing driving tests… well perhaps not everything, and I have now passed my test… but you get the idea. We define ourselves by the things we do or like, the people in our lives, or a position we hold.
One of the things illness often robs from you is a sense of identity and worth. It takes away all those things we pin our identity on – our abilities, our character traits, our usefulness. Who am I when everything I am is stripped away?
As I became very unwell, losing all my abilities, and even basic things like the ability to communicate, think clearly, or feel normally, I felt I had lost myself. But God used this, this stripping away of all I was to show me more of who He is, who I am in Him, and what defines my worth and identity.
There is too much to discuss here to fit into one post of readable length, but I will start with looking at what it means to be made in God’s image.
Part 1 – Made in God’s image
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? How is this even relevant to identity or worth?
To be made in God’s image, is to possess, in your very being, a reflection and imprint of the eternal nature, character, and glory of God.
Take this in for a moment. Soak in it. Just in being, you are a reflecting the beauty of a Holy God… for no other reason than because He made you that way. If this is not relevant to identity or worth then what is?!
Different to animals, God has given us an eternal soul. Our bodies will die, but our soul is for eternity. This, in itself, is an imprint of God’s nature. But what defines whether we are made in His image?
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:27,31
It is in our creation that our worth is defined. When he created Adam and Eve, before they had done anything good or bad, he called them “very good”. They were made in his image, because that is how he created them. This means that there is nothing that can exempt someone from this.
“So I went down to the potters house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potters hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do…
‘Can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD.'”
– Jeremiah 18:3-4,6
There are passages in the Bible that describe God as being like a potter, creating each of us for unique purposes which He has chosen, some for wrath, some for mercy, some for honour, some for humble tasks, yet all are made by His hand, live by His breath, come into being by His word and at His command. Whether you believe in God or not, you are a reflection of his image, and bear the fingerprints of your creator. The God of the Bible is a hands-on God. Every person He has made carries the imprint of His fingerprints.
But what about people with disabilities – mental or physical, those who cannot understand, think, or interact with others normally? What about those living with broken bodies and physical abnormalities, or people who need care and are not as ‘useful’ as others? Is God’s image less in them?
Can a potter create something without touching the clay? No more can God give life to a person without leaving the imprint of His image on them. Yes, it is a broken image. But every one of us is a broken image! We all reflect the image of God, and in all of us it is broken and marred. I don’t believe it is any more so in those who are unwell or disabled.
Sometimes with disabilities we can feel spoiled, unfit for purpose. But God works us into other vessels, fit for different purposes, no less reflecting Him or valued by Him. Rather than wishing we were made differently, or had the same purpose as others, maybe we should ask more how to embrace the way He has made us, and discover the uniquely special purposes that He has for us.
Sin – smashed or remoulded
I believe a much bigger threat to God’s image in us is sin. Can an evil and wicked person destroy the image of God in them? Again in that passage in Jeremiah it describes God’s response to sin in our lives.
“If at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build or plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do it.” Jeremiah 18:7-10
Sin always mars and destroys, but when there is repentance, God remoulds us to be more like Him. There is hope! It gives the picture that we are vessels continuously on God’s wheel, and that He is constantly forming us. If we submit to His work, He will continue to work on us, increasing in beauty, preparing us for eternity. But in the next chapter he uses the analogy of a smashed flask to show what will happen when we refuse to repent.
“So will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potters vessel, so that it can never be mended.” Jeremiah 19:11
When people are in rebellion against God, His image is increasingly diminished in them until the final day when it is shattered. At this point there is no going back.
Honouring the image of God
A final important impact of being made in God’s image is the way we look at, and love others. When I am struggling with someone, I find it helpful to take time to see aspects of God’s image reflected in them and give thanks for these, and then reach out to them with the love I have for Jesus because they are, in some way, reflecting Him. When we are called to love and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are being called to love image-bearers of Christ. When we are called to love and welcome those who do not know God, we are being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to love and pray for our enemies and those who abuse us, we are still being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to forgive, we are being called to forgive image-bearers of God. This makes every act of service, every act of love or kindness to another, an act of worship to God. For in all these things we are loving Him, seeing Him, and showing honour to Him.
Called to reflect
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
And so, as we are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect Him. There are three important aspects to this:
1. “Beholding the glory of the LORD.” We may not see God fully, but we can seek Him, come to know Him through His Word and Spirit, and behold – gaze at – the glory of the Lord that is revealed to us. In the same way a mirror can reflect brilliant light when it is shone on it, so as we turn our faces to gaze at God, we reflect the brightness of his glory more and more.
2. “This comes from the Lord who is Spirit”. Ultimately this is a work of God’s Spirit in you. You cannot increasingly reflect the image and glory of God apart from His power at work in you. When you are genuinely seeking Him and His ways, you can be sure that He is transforming you more and more to His image, even at those times when we cannot see it.
3. Obedience. When we choose sin, we are choosing to fall away from God, and so reflect Him less. When we choose obedience to God, we are turning towards Him, and so reflect Him more. God’s image is either buried under sin, or washed clean by Jesus’ blood to reflect Him more. But the fingerprints of our Creator remain indelibly on us.
Not until glory does this change, when, in those who have chosen Him, the brokenness is healed, the mess is washed away, and His image is perfected in us into unmarred beauty. But for those who do not know Him, what remains of God’s image is removed, and they become what they have longed to be, and yet not realised the horror of it – free from the imprint of their Creator. All goodness removed.
So seek Him while you still can. Grow in the image and glory of your Creator. Hope in that day when you will be transformed to be like Him.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3