Exactly how we’re made in God’s image has been the subject of diverse interpretation through the centuries. Does it mean that every human creature looks like God? Or is it that every creature from womb to tomb is precious by virtue of having their origin in God? Is it our conscience or our soul that resembles the divine? Or how about our love? Or maybe it’s our reason or our language? Maybe we reflect God in that we have dominion over the earth just as God has dominion over us?
Through the centuries the Church has understood the imago dei in all of these ways and often such understandings owe as much to cultural assumptions as they do to the scriptural narrative.
Here’s one way to think about our being made in God’s image that you may not have heard before; in fact, it’ll surprise and maybe offend some of you.
Gregory of Nyssa, a brilliant ‘Father’ of the early Church, understood the imago dei in even strict Trinitarian terms. If God is community, Gregory believed, and if Adam and Eve metaphorically represent humanity (‘Adam’ just means ‘the man’ – see even the ancient Christians didn’t have a problem interpreting Genesis allegorically), then it’s not simply the male-female relationship that constitutes the divine image it’s the totality of the human community.
It’s the human community that reflects the divine community. All of us. To leave someone from the human community out of the imago dei is no different then than excluding either Father, Son or Spirit from the divine community.
This is where Gregory’s thought takes a logical, if surprising turn.
Gregory’s understanding of the imago dei unfolds in a way that has unavoidable, universalist implications for any definition of salvation.
If the human community in its entirety makes up God’s image then redemption can not be accomplished unless Christ saves the entirety of the human community through his incarnation, life, cross and resurrection.
If all of us together constitute the image of God then salvation, the reversal of Sin and the healing of our nature, cannot be complete without all of us. Together.
All will be saved, Gregory speculates, because all have been made in the image of God.