BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (52) – In what way are we God’s image and likeness?

Marjon Besteman-Horn at Pixabay

– Rev José Mario O. Mandía

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…. So God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:26, 27). No other creature has been created this way. So what is it in us that makes us God’s image and likeness? We can distinguish three levels of gifts: (1) the natural, (2) the preternatural, and (3) the supernatural. In these three realms, we can see how God has blessed us abundantly.

1. THE NATURAL LEVEL

(1.1) A spiritual soul endowed with intellect and will. We have previously discussed these in Bite-Size Philosophy (nos 28, 40, 45-47). Unlike the souls of plants and animals, man’s soul is spiritual – it does not die when man dies: it lives on. The soul is immortal. In this sense, the soul’s immortality is an image of God’s eternity. Moreover, God has established that the body will reunite with the soul on the last day.

(1.2) Power to procreate, educate, and to constitute society. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:27-28). Through the procreative power, man is like God by bringing new human beings to birth. Moreover, the family that man establishes becomes an image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity.

(1.3) Lordship or mastery of all material creation. God instructed Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). To fill the earth, to subdue it, to have dominion over it, to till and to keep it means to take care of it. The need to protect our earthly home is not a modern precept. It was already present at the time of creation.

2. THE PRETERNATURAL LEVEL

Preternatural gifts are those not required by our nature. They are like extra endowments given to our first parents (cf CCC 376 and 377). We know about these “bonuses” only after we learn about what our first parents lost once they sinned (more about this sin in a future essay).

(2. 1) Gift of rectitude or integrity.  This gift strengthens the natural gift of man’s will. Strength of will made it possible to have self-mastery. This led to inner harmony in the human person, harmony between man and woman, harmony between the first couple and all creation. Adam and Eve were free from what Saint John describes in his First Letter as the triple concupiscence (cf I John 2:16): the unbridled desire for power, pleasure and possessions.

(2.2) Gift of infused knowledge. They were free of ignorance and given knowledge that they could not  acquire through their senses and through reasoning. “He filled them with knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil. He set his eye upon their hearts to show them the majesty of his works” (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 17:7-8).

(2.3) Gift of immortality. Our first parents did not have to die.

(2.4) Gift of impassibility. Our first parents did not have to suffer. Work for them was pleasurable. It was only after their fall that work became toilsome and difficult (cf Genesis 3:18-19).

3. THE SUPERNATURAL LEVEL: SANCTIFYING GRACE

This is the greatest gift Adam and Eve could have ever received. It entitled them to a share in God’s life. The Garden of Eden symbolizes it. We shall speak more about it in the future.

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