Close this search box.

Created in the Image of the Creator

The doctrine of man’s creation in the image of God has received considerable attention in the history of the Reformed churches. Zacharias Ursinus provides a reasonably full statement of the main elements of the doctrine:

The image of God in man, is a mind rightly knowing the nature, will, and works of God; a will freely obeying God; and a correspondence of all the inclinations, desires, and actions, with the divine will; in a word, it is the spiritual and immortal nature of the soul, and the purity and integrity of the whole man; a perfect blessedness and joy, together with the dignity and majesty of man, in which he excels and rules over all other creatures.[1]

This definition of the image proper focuses on the constitution of man. Connected to that is the moral status man did and ought to have, and his place and function with reference to creation. For Ursinus, the function of man as ruler depends on his constitution. Man could not excel and rule over other creatures if he were not created with a superior dignity. While the ontological, moral, and functional elements mentioned by Ursinus embrace a great deal of what is comprehended in the image of God, there is at least one point that does not get mentioned.

Dorothy Sayers identifies this point in one of her most fascinating works when she writes:

Man, very obviously, is not a being of this kind: this body, parts, and passions are only too conspicuous in his makeup. How then can he be said to resemble God? Is it his immortal soul, his rationality, his self-consciousness, his free will, or what, that gives him a claim to this rather startling distinction? A case may be argued for all these elements in the complex nature of man. But had the author of Genesis anything particular in his mind when he wrote? It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things.[2]

In other words, the beginning of the Bible talks about God creating (Gen. 1:1). When it tells about man being made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), the primary thing revealed so far in the text is that God is the creator.

Believing that “father” has been much more studied than “maker,” Sayers develops the thesis that man, made in the image of God, images God in the creative process. She analyzes the phenomenon of creativity and argues that there is a Trinitarian quality to it. In the mind of the artist at work, it is possible to see the closest image there is in created reality to the original Creator of all. The work thus stands as a serious contribution to Trinitarian theology, as well as a major work of artistic theory.

Sayers had an advantage in pursuing this line of inquiry, she herself was gifted with no small degree of literary creativity. No doubt it would have been quite difficult for someone who was not a creative artist to explore the analogy with suitable insight.

To be sure, there are certainly points to question in the development of her arguments and the dogmatism of her statements. For instance, one of her contemporaries and creative counterparts identified a glaring exaggeration in her thesis:

I must therefore disagree with Miss Sayers very profoundly when she says that ‘between the mind of the maker and the Mind of the Maker’ there is ‘a difference, not of category, but only of quality and degree’ (p. 147 [170]). On my view there is a greater, far greater, difference between the two than playing with a doll and suckling a child.[3]

Another point is perhaps more subtle, but still worth remarking. Even allowing for all the different forms of human endeavor, not everyone is equally creative; yet this does not make one person more the image of God than another. Moreover, creativity must never be equated with or set above godliness. Artistic endeavor is certainly good, but the new man is created after God’s likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24), not in genius and inventive fertility. Thus the more modest account offered by Philip Edgecumbe Hughes rests on a firmer basis.[4]

Notwithstanding the disagreements it will and should provoke, The Mind of the Maker remains a stimulating and illuminating work, in more than one field. It is perhaps not surprising that it was a creative artist with an interest in theology who put considerable thought into the question of God’s image as it relates to creativity. She was not the only one to make the point, however.

Nearly 1500 years before Sayers wrote, the Antiochene scholar, Theodoret of Cyrus (d.457), made these observations:

Now, when such precision appears in music, listeners marvel at the rhythm and harmony of the strain, yet they do not appreciate human articulation. Art, however, imitates nature, but it is nature that makes the voice articulate. The voice is the creation of God, who is the Maker of all things. … As man is the image of the Creator he strives to imitate the Creator. And the things he makes are like shadows contending with the truth; they are true to their forms but lack their native energy. Seeing such providence manifested in human organs, then, stop calling it want of care.[v]

Man’s artistry is only an imitation of God’s artistry, abundantly found in nature. Imitating nature in our art, we imitate God in our creativity.

It is certainly possible to push this insight too far, as Dorothy Sayers did in places. Yet it is a helpful reminder that in the act of making us in his image, our divine Creator gave us also a creative faculty. This means that in the exercise of creativity, we may reflect the glory of God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. This includes the arts, of course, but also innovation in other fields of endeavor. Since that is true, it follows also that creativity is not neutral. Here also we must remember and reflect our Creator (Ecc. 12:1). The God who judged his whole creation very good (Gen. 1:31) does not leave us directionless in the evaluation of our own work.

Because the Creator of all is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the human act of artistic creation provides an analogy to the mode of working among the persons of the Trinity. It should not be overlooked, however, that this work was an exercise of love. The new man is created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2:10). Therefore we most truly image our (re-)Creator when we engage in the works of love, even if they are not “creative” in the artistic sense.

[1] Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism. G. W. Williard, trans. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company reprint, n.d. [1852]), 30.

[2] Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 34.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Image and Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 168.

[4] Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989) 62–64.

[5] Theodoret of Cyrus, On Divine Providence. Ancient Christian Writers No. 49, Thomas Halton, trans. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1988), 36.


On Key

Related Posts

What Is the Point of Contact?

In another video, we spoke about the antithesis, the sharp distinction between believers and unbelievers. That distinction is covenantal, absolute, and ethical. We also spoke

What Is the Deeper Protestant Conception?

In Reformed Dogmatics 2:13–15, Geerhardus Vos coined a phrase for the image of God, entitled “the deeper Protestant conception.” When God formed Adam from the

What Is Mutualism or Correlativism?

Mutualism or correlativism are virtual synonyms. Cornelius Van Til, a prominent twentieth-century Reformed theologian, apologist, Orthodox Presbyterian, and founding member of Westminster Theological Seminary, taught

What Is the Creator-Creature Distinction?

In biblical teaching summarized by Reformed theology, the creator-creature distinction brings into view the absolute ontological difference between the Triune God and the creature. The