What does it mean that we are created in the image of God?

There has been plenty of debate about this doctrine and it is trickier than it might seem. But, in some form, the image of God persists in every human being. Here is one aspect of that universal doctrine.

Because God made us, we can recognize him.

To be created in the image of God means we can all recognize God—even unbelievers. God speaks in a language we understand. We take notice when his character is on display; we recognize him.

It’s like this: My two-year-old granddaughter Adelaide is lively when she is with grown-ups, but when she is with her cousin Jasper who is the same age, she is electric. She recognizes him as someone like herself. He is her size and shape. He speaks her unique dialect and is like her in most every way. In other words, she recognizes him. He is her people, her subspecies. When they are together everything is as it should be. There is lots of laughter, and, no doubt, commiserating about potty training.

We don’t have to be two-year-olds to have these recognizing moments—we know the delight at seeing an old friend, the comfort of identifying a fellow citizen in a foreign land, or the communion with someone who understands us because of a similar experience. When we have these moments, we smile. When we recognize a person who shares something basic, almost unspoken with us, our entire being responds with…joy.

Likewise, since we are all God’s offspring, we can recognize him especially in his words. There is something joyful in that.

His words make sense to our souls.

When we read Scripture, it should sound familiar. It should seem right and make sense. It should sound like a language once spoken, then forgotten, then heard again replete with wonderful memories.

Here is an example: consider others as more important than yourself. This is surprising at first, but it also makes sense to our souls. When we see it in Jesus, it plucks something in our hearts. We recognize that he is acting rightly, the way we were intended to be. When we see it in others we recognize something in them that is truly human.

Here is another example: be generous and free in your giving to others. Again, it’s a little hard at first. I should be generous? What about my retirement and my losses due to the recession? But when we see that generosity in Jesus, we recognize his perfect humanness, and we are attracted to him. We recognize him and respond with our own version of being electric.

And notice how the secular world is picking up on forgiveness. It seems silly to forgive someone when we instinctively demand justice and retribution, but the world is borrowing some of God’s words about forgiveness and they sound good and true. Forgive rather than seek revenge. These words are recognizable.

So how might this doctrine impact our counseling? We can expect even those who have not followed Jesus to notice that the words of Jesus make sense. Those words, as we speak them, should sound hard yet attractive, good and familiar.

We were created to be like God in every way a creature can be like the Creator. A lot has happened since then, but he is our Father and we—believers and unbelievers—can recognize him. His words are familiar. And, sometimes, in that recognition, we have glimpses of joy.