We were created to be God’s image on earth. Both Jesus and other rabbis shared their wisdom about the implications.
When Jesus instructed us to love one another unconditionally, he presented God himself as our model for living. We should have the same love for one another that God has for us:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:44-45, 48)
Jesus says that we should strive to be “sons of our Father in heaven,” implying that somehow our “genetics” as God’s children should enable us to act like him. We are to imitate him and reflect his image to others and the rest of creation.
Much of the time we don’t live up to our calling. Indeed, we are just the opposite! A few centuries after Christ, other teachers felt this tension. A rabbinic commentary on Genesis contains an imaginary debate that supposedly occurred in heaven about whether humankind should even be created. Here’s the story:
When creation was all but ended, the world with all its grandeur and splendor stood out in glorious beauty. God was seated on his throne surrounded by hosts of angels and seraphim singing hymns before him.
Just one thing was left to consummate the marvelous work that God had called into existence by the mere words, “Let there be.” This was the human being, a creature with thought and understanding that was able to reflect and marvel on this great handiwork of God. So God said, “Let us make man in our likeness, and let there be a creature not only the product of earth, but also gifted from the heavens with reason, intellect and understanding.”
But then, Truth appeared and fell before God’s throne and humbly exclaimed:
“Please, O Lord, refrain from calling into being a creature who is beset with the vice of lying, who will tread truth under his feet!”
Peace then came forth to offer another plea:
“Why, Lord, shall this creature appear on earth, a creature so full of strife and contention, to disturb the peace and harmony of your creation? He will carry the flame of quarrel and ill-will everywhere he goes. He will bring about war and destruction in his eagerness for gain and conquest!”
While they were pleading against the creation of man, there arose another voice from another part of the heavens, the soft voice of Mercy:
“King of the universe, if you create a being in your likeness, it will be a noble creature striving to imitate your attributes by its actions. Even now I see this being performing his great mission, doing his noble work.
I envision him approaching the humble hut, seeking the wretched to comfort them, drying the tears of the afflicted and discouraged, cheering the heavy of heart, offering a helping hand to those in need, giving solace to the widow, and providing shelter to the orphan.
Such a creature cannot fail to be a glory to his Maker!”
The Creator approved of the pleadings of Mercy, and called man into being.(1)
In this vivid illustration, the rabbis expanded upon the implications of being created in the likeness of God, just as Jesus did in Matthew. God breathed his own breath into us to give us life. Because we bear his image, we are capable of love and mercy to one another. As long as we aim to imitate our Father, we cannot fail to love as he loves.
(1) Adapted from Genesis Rabbah 8, which dates from the 5-6th centuries AD/CE.
This article is one of over three dozen brief articles on Jesus’ Words in Context on the new EnGediResourceCenter.com website. Each article focuses on how Jesus’ first-century Jewish setting brings out nuances that we’re otherwise not aware of. Feel free to read the rest there.