When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment,” he said “the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul”. Jesus didn’t have to go any further. He had been asked what was the greatest commandment, and he answered the question, but he didn’t stop there. He offered a second greatest commandment, which is “to love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:36-39)
Why did Jesus go further?
The significance of these two commandments that are the greatest of all is that you and I are made in imago dei – the image of God. Moreover, this revolutionary idea, that we are created in the image of God, is unique to the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The point is further illustrated elsewhere in the same Chapter of Matthew in a confrontation between pupils of the Pharisees, who were sent to challenge Jesus by asking him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. They were trying to trap him with a question for which there was no good, politically correct, answer, but Jesus was not deterred by their ill will.
Rather, Jesus requested a coin. Someone produced a denarius (a Roman coin) for him. Ravi Zacharias describes the interchange that ensued this way.
“He held the coin out to [the man who gave it to him], and he said, ‘Whose image is on this?’ The man said, ‘Caesar.’ Jesus said, ‘Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and give to God that which belongs to God.’ The man should have had a follow up question, and the follow up question should have been, ‘What belongs to God?’ and Jesus would have said, ‘Whose image is on you?’”
What a profound way of illustrating the same point. Clearly, Jesus was insinuating that people within the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire by which authority the currency of Rome was produced have an obligation to the governing authorities, of which Caesar was the head. But more importantly, people created by God by whose authority they were created have an obligation to their Creator.
At least three very important truths flow from this one central truth that Jesus highlights – we are made in the image of God, with the “stamp” of God’s likeness upon us. First. We belong to God. He made us for Himself. We are not our own. Though God may have given us freedom to refuse, we owe ourselves to Him.
In fact, our freedom to choose is proof that we are made in His image. We are like Him in that respect, and the responsibility rests on us to recognize that truth and yield ourselves back to Him as intends and desires.
The second great truth that flows from the central principal – that we are made in the image of God – is that each one of us bears the imprint of the Almighty God. Each one of us has intrinsic value and worth.
And finally, this fundamental – that we are each made in the image of God with intrinsic worth that comes from our Creator – is why we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
Because that intrinsic value is rooted in God who is and was and ever more shall be, it is of eternal significance. This is what prompted CS Lewis to write in his famous essay, The Weight of Glory:
“It is a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Though Ravi Zacharias focused only on the image of God principal in statement above, I would like to make one other point, because I believe it is significant. Jesus added still another statement before he finished. He said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
Another way of saying this is that all the Law and the Prophets (what we now call the Old Testament) can be summarized in two overarching principals: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, Jesus is saying that these two principals are the filter through which we should read the Old Testament. These overarching principals are the interpretation key to the whole thing.
If we are not reading the Old Testament in the light of these two principals, we are missing the point. If we don’t understand the Old Testament to mean that we should love God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves, we aren’t understanding the point of the Old Testament.
Postscript: For the presentation that inspired the thoughts in this article see
2 thoughts on “The Imago Dei”
“The idea that we are created in the image of God is unique to the Judeo-Christian worldview. ”
I would humbly point out that in the Vedic philosophy of India, at least as taught in the Krsna consciousness movement, our souls are part of Lord Krsna’s marginal energy so that we are in fact particles of God. God’s mystic power is infinite whereas our mystic power in infinitesimal, but we are qualitatively like God in our true spiritual nature.
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I appreciate your comment. Comparative religion has always interested me. It makes sense to me that truth, if universal, will be reflected and understood in some way by all of us throughout the world. As finite creatures, we labor to understand the reality of our world, and we probably can only ever know it incompletely. With that said, I believe the concepts are similar, but not the same. Ravi Zacharias, who made the statement I paraphrased, was raised a Hindu in India. So his statement that the image of God is unique to Christianity means something more than a person like me making the same statement. Based on my understanding, I would say that the Vedic idea is pantheistic, rather than theistic, and that is probably the chief difference