The image of God in us makes sense of why we long for meaning, purpose, and connection.
My spunky aunt who lives in Manhattan called me really early this morning. “I’ll call you right back,” I whispered, lest I wake up anyone else.
But I couldn’t get her phone number straight. I remember thinking, “Just hit redial” while I was pressing numbers, but for some reason I didn’t.
Sometime later, I woke up. I would’ve called my aunt, but she passed away several years ago.
The inability to make a phone call has been a recurring dream. As a member of Gen X, I’m slightly old enough to remember the rotary dial phone. Numerous dreams involved the slowly turning dial until my nocturnal mind assimilated the numeric pad. But whatever the phone, I’m rarely able to get a call through.
I need not consult an expert to have some idea about this repetitive dream. Indeed, I can pinpoint a face-to-face conversation just yesterday with my aunt’s sister—my mother—that probably prompted it. What these dreams usually indicate are unfinished conversations or hindrances to communication.
I’d like to think this disconnect is just a generational thing.
Perhaps that’s partly true, but there is less of a gap between generations than is widely reported in the media. In his November 2021 book The Generation Myth: Why When You’re Born Matters Less Than You Think, Kings College public policy professor Bobby Duffy argues that although there are differences, we have much more in common than we realize. Moreover, “Across a range of issues, manufacturing fake generational battles denies us the benefits of intergenerational connection and solidarity.”
Whether Gen X or Gen Z, we long for meaning, purpose, and connection. But, as in my recurring phone dream, we can encounter obstacles along the way.
A Stupendous Reality
What is it about us as humans that prompts us to aspire for more and to seek connection? The ancient Christian story intimates that our generational dreams are often similar because each of us has been made in the image of God. At the dawn of creation, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).
The similar words “image” and “likeness” connote an intimate association with God. Bible scholar Bruce Waltke remarks, however, “The important addition of ‘likeness’ underscores that humanity is only a facsimile of God and hence distinct from him. Whereas the image of the deity is equated with the deity itself in the ancient Near East, the word likeness serves to clearly distinguish God from humans in the biblical worldview.”
Lest we rush past this verse in Genesis 1, the very next verse—the first poem in Scripture—restates this stupendous reality:
So God created man in his own image,(Genesis 1:27)
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
One of the overarching themes of Scripture is this incredible truth that behind and before all of creation is an eternally existent Person. God is a relational being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect harmony. He has made Himself known through history, recorded Scripture, and His creation, and He has invited us to know Him. We have essential value as human beings because we are image-bearers of this triune God who created us and loves us.
A Purposive Reality
Why do we cry out for justice? Naturalism can’t tell us why we are moral beings with essential value.
Why do we aspire for more and want to make a difference? Naturalism can’t tell us why we seek meaning and purpose.
Why do we want to connect, to be known and belong? Or, why should we care about our neighbor and our environment? Might not these questions point to the imago Dei in us, the very image of God, who, being in relationship, made us for relationship and as stewards of His earth?
“Nature cannot explain the origin of rational thought, and even less provide a basis for morality and conscience,” wrote the late Swiss theologian Roger Nicole. “We are led, therefore, to recognize a powerful and purposive reality beyond the material world, who is the creator and sustainer of all that exists.”
There is a purposive reality to each of our fragile lives, Scripture declares—and even if we live with significant cognitive or physical disabilities as my Manhattan aunt did. George C. Hammond observes,
In Genesis 1, man as the image of God is rooted in God’s declaration and creation of human beings. Everything else that might be identified with the image of God is the result of being created in the image of God. Those faculties and abilities do not constitute the image of God.
This is very good news, not only for people born with severe cognitive disabilities, but for all of us, because in Genesis 3 we are told that something catastrophic happened. In humankind’s rebellion against God, we, all of us, became very broken so that none of us expresses the image of God as fully as we otherwise would have.
Genesis 1 suggests the imago Dei constitutes the sacred framework of our lives. Genesis 3 reveals why we are broken and fail to love and connect as we ought or wish. And the whole of Scripture exclaims that “the creator and sustainer of all that exists” loves us and has invited us to know Him, even living among us, as Jesus did, to show us God in the flesh.
The image of God in us is an indelible indicator that we are made for more than this world. God has made us for lasting meaning, purpose, and connection—good desires that are ultimately satisfied and flourish in relationship with Him and not apart from our Creator. Only God can truly make sense of our recurring generational dreams and every sleeping and waking moments of our lives.
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 Bobby Duffy, “The Bunk of Generational Talk Generation Myths And Realities,” The Wall Street Journal (October 23, 2021), The Bunk of Generational Talk – WSJ.
 Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 66.
 Roger Nicole, “God in the Dock: The Apologetics of C. S. Lewis,” God in the Dock: The Apologetics of C. S. Lewis by Roger Nicole (ligonier.org).
 George C. Hammond, “Rethinking the Image of God in Light of Those with Severe Cognitive Disabilities,” Knowing & Doing (Winter 2017), 7, 6135 (cslewisinstitute.org).
Danielle Durant invites others to join her in unearthing the perpetual wonders of beauty and truth found in the ageless drama of Scripture. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) and a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). Danielle is passionate about all things running, nature, and her expressive Maine Coon cat, Simeon.