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Guest blogger: Peter Gordon

Genesis 1:28 (NIV)
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

This brief statement contains an important nuance that is often overlooked. The pronouns referring to humans move from the singular to the plural when humankind’s creation is described (from “him” to “them”). We easily and readily recognize that we are created individually in God’s image, and we tend to limit our understanding to the singular. “I am made in God’s image.” “He is God’s image.” Rarely do we think about the image of God in the plural. “Together, we are God’s image.” “They are God’s image.” Realizing this, we are reminded that all people, individually and collectively, are created in the image of God.

This thought is closer to the Old Testament view that all of the children of Israel together were the image of their Creator. Likewise, for God’s New Testament people, we are all the Body of Christ, different parts of one whole, and each of these parts is the image of God, and the whole body together is the image of God. We collectively image God, because God is a divine community of three Persons. One person alone cannot image God fully, because God is a community.

This collective view of the image of God has implications for how we think and how we view other people. The image of God is not limited merely to individual attributes or characteristics; all of us together are the image of God. Consider the incredible variety God created in His image. Male and female reflect God’s image. The image of God is African American. The image of God is Asian. The image of God is European. The image of God sits in a wheelchair, walks with a cane, has a companion animal, and has trouble learning.

As we do service for each other as the image of God, we do service for God. Jesus taught His disciples that serving the “least” of their brothers was serving him (Matt 25:31-46). Being the image of God means that as we are one body in the body of Christ, so all of us human beings are all one in the image of God.


Thomas E. Reynolds in his book, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, has a chapter devoted to the discussion of the image of God and disabilities. I highly recommend his book.

To add to this discussion, here is Reynolds' definition of the image of God: "the image of God is an elusive category loosely signifying that we are fashioned bodily to be creative, relational, and available agents in God's world." (p. 176)

It's part of a deeper and bigger theological argument but one of the implications is that people with impairments or disabilities, even as individuals, are creative, relational and available (open to receiving love and to loving others) in an infinite variety of ways, albeit maybe not in ways prescribed by the "cult of normalcy". People with disabilties, therefore, are also individually image-bearers of God, as much as anybody else, not only in the collective sense as described so nicely in this post.

Reynolds' emphasis is this: "the heart of the creative and relational fabric of the imago Dei: human beings reflect God's free love as an availability displayed by solicitude toward what is other. Created in God's image, we are beings with the capacity to respect, be faithful to, and show compassionate regard for others." (p. 185)

Some of the implications of that statement are clear: respecting, being faithful to and showing compassion to people who are different than ourselves, to those who are "other", is part and parcel of imaging God.

Mark Stephenson on December 30, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Thanks for sharing this. Hans Reinders has done some very helpful reflection on the image of God as well in his book, Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics. Many people say that to be made in God’s image means that we have certain abilities such the ability to think or the ability to obey or disobey God. But these ideas about the image of God exclude some people with disabilities, especially people with severe intellectual disabilities. The image of God begins with fact that we all share a common humanity and ends in God’s love. According to Reinders, we are “created in God’s love, since love is what defines the God in whom Christians believe.”

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