Is Love the Image of God?

Since writing a paper this summer titled “Love: The Image of God,” I have been receiving much unsolicited attention from laymen and fellow seminary students alike about how such a thing could be possible. I really just wanted to explore the possibility that love could be the essence of the image. This is not a new idea, as it is presented by Anthony Hoekema in his excellent book, “Created in God’s Image.” I took his idea and ran with it a bit.

I won’t post the entire paper here, but if anybody is interested, I’d be happy to send a copy to you for your reading pleasure. It’s not long, and my hope is that it makes you think long and hard about what the image could possibly be. A simple search for the word “image” in any concordance or bible program makes for a great study, and I highly recommend it.

Ironically, two ThM (Master’s of Theology) students at my seminary are currently undergoing research for their Master’s Theses on the very topic of the image of God. One of these guys in particular has engaged me in a stimulating dialogue concerning the image as love. What follows are some thoughts I had this evening while walking my dog around the neighborhood:

I was thinking about your my friend’s comments regarding the relationship of love and knowledge. His statement basically was that something must be known to be loved. I’ve mused over that for the past day or so, and come up with this take on it. Love must precede knowledge.

Let’s start with God. He existed as three persons from before the first words in Genesis, before any human being was created. Yet Paul tells us that he “foreknew” us in Romans 8:29, which more than a few commentators take to mean, he fore-“loved” us. So how do we reconcile that? Which comes first, the love or the knowledge of someone? Sure, from our human perspective knowledge must come first. We have to know ontologically and through experience our wives before we actually come to love them. But even that isn’t a correct statement, depending on our definition of love. I think this is where the answer to the question lies, which also helps to get us closer to the meaning of the “image.”

Love, like all the attributes, is only revealed in action. Not a single attribute of God is a static, non-moving, non-manifested reality. Every single one, either justice, wrath, anger, mercy, kindness, compassion, sorry, pity or love itself are in motion. Or as we call them, “e-motions.” Either the attribute is on display because we see God’s hand moving, or the attribute is being manifested as God reacts to something we do (I won’t get into that issue here).

Same with love. It isn’t some dormant “thing” that resides within us as some kind of ethereal substance. No, it makes itself known, whatever its composition, when we either 1) move to do something that is loving, or 2) we react to something(s) done to us or in our vicinity that elicit a response/feeling of love. But again, the question remains: what is the source? what is the spring from which these waters flow?

At this point I say the image.

If love is the attribute that binds all the rest together (Col 3:14), then all the rest are dependent upon it. Therefore, if human beings have any similarities with God at all, as far as various attributes go, then love must also be the one that binds those same attributes together in man. I still cannot answer, however, why the biblical writers were not explicit in naming love as the image. But looking at the image passages in the NT and their relation to Christ makes that one easier for me to answer (see my paper for some examples).

The next question then, is why do people hate? My response: Why does God hate? (cf. Ps 5:5) Hate, along with wrath, anger, despair, anguish, and so many other “negative” emotions, all still stem from love. So, if love can manifest itself in ways that appear negative, then they also do the same in humans. But the image (love) in humans has been affected by our inherited sin nature. So where God’s negative manifestations of love are still pure at their core, man’s are not, having been twisted and corrupted by the sin nature.

Another objection would be that if the image is love, and all mankind has that image (love), then we’ve just thrown total depravity out the window. I don’t think so. God’s creation is still good. All of it. That includes our bodies and minds, and the image. But sin is the things that distorts it all. I’m not sure yet how that happens. Is it like a wet blanket thrown on top of all the good? Is it an inner reality that has made us somehow less than human? But wouldn’t that make us less human than Adam (Hoekema brings up this point well in his book on the image)?

All that being said, there is much more work to be done exegetically and theologically before many will buy off on the concept of the image being love. Still, it is an intriguing idea that deserves much more attention.

Still, I think love is the best option at this point (i’m a bit stubborn).

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One comment

  1. Found you when googling, “is love the image of God.” I would definitely be interested in your paper, “Love: The Image of God.” Thanks!

    Like

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