Question from a Site Viewer
My 17 year old son asked me this morning, “How could Satan sin even though God created him perfectly?” I dunno. I know you probably had an article on it so I searched but couldn’t find it. This brings up another question . . . how exactly are we created differently from the angels since man is created in God’s image? I told Pete that we have a heart, will and mind . . . but didn’t the angels?
mixed up Mom
Your question goes to the heart of what we think about when we think something is perfect. In our mind, perfection is something that cannot go wrong. Since Satan could go wrong, and did, how could he be perfect? But I suggest there is another way to think of perfection. Perfection is not the absence of ability to do wrong, but the continual choice to do right. If one answers all of the questions on a test correctly, that person gets a perfect score. The score is not less than perfect because the person had the possibility of getting some of the questions wrong. Possibility of error does not introduce imperfection; only error introduces imperfection. So it is with the creation. If the creation always chooses to do right, than that creation is perfect, even if the creation had the ability to do wrong.
I think we see this in Christ. In our article on impeccability, we reason through the issue of whether Christ could have sinned. If perfection means an impossibility of sin, then there is no issue to resolve. Christ, being perfect, could not sin. But this simple answer does little to answer the questions of the temptation of Christ. Whether he was able to sin or not, He certainly was tempted to sin. Scripture is quite clear on this. In my view, this means that Jesus had a desire to do that which would be sin, but yet His stronger desire was to do the will of the Father. The struggle of the two wills, His and His Father’s, is seem repeatedly on the pages of Scripture. Yet, Jesus always submitted to the Father. Whether it is right to say that Jesus was perfect because He did not sin or to say He did not sin because He was perfect, we must understand from Scripture that He faced a real temptation not to be perfect. Nevertheless, the temptation did not make Him less than perfect, but rather revealed His perfection.
So it is with creation. We are perfect when we do the will of the Father. We are imperfect when we do not do the will of the Father. Perfection does not come because of our inability to sin, but because of our choice not to sin. Job was perfect and upright (Job 1:1), as was Noah (Genesis 6:9), as is God’s work (Deuteronomy 32:4), and as was Satan before iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15). But when Satan chose, and when we choose, to seek our own desire when that desire is contrary to God’s will, then we sin and become imperfect. Temptation does not make us imperfect any more than temptation made Christ imperfect. But choosing our own desires when those desires are not aligned with His desire does make us imperfect. When we do so, we sin.
Because perfection is not the opposite of temptation, but rather the opposite of sin, Satan was perfect before he sinned.
As to your question of the image of God, theologians from as early as Ireneus have wrestled with what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. Millard Erickson divides the various views into three broad categories; a substantive view, a relational view, and a functional view. Simplifying these three views, the substantive view states that there is something inherently within humans that reflects God, usually seen as relating to intellect and will. The relational view states that the image of God is centered on our relationship with God and with others. The functional view is largely driven by the fact that humans were given functions that reflect God’s functions, centering on sovereignty or rule over creation as stated in Genesis 1:26, 28. Within each of these views, there are many variations.
Here is what we know. Men and women were originally created in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26 God stated His intent to create man in His image and likeness, and verse 27 tells us that He did this, making them male and female. We know that this image persisted even after the fall of man. In Genesis 9:5-6 man is differentiated from animals in that man is made in the image of God. In James 3:9, we again have the statement that men have been made in the likeness of God. We also know that Christ is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15) and that as believers we are being “renewed in knowledge according to the image of [God]” (Colossians 3:10). We also are told that we are being changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Despite the many arguments to find the image of God in man’s rationality and will, and this view is perhaps the most predominate in the church through the ages, I am not convinced that this aspect fully embraces what Scripture has in mind. Satan and angels also have will and reason, yet they were never stated to be made in the image of God. Satan made a choice to fall (Ezekiel 28:17), is conniving (Ephesians 6:11), and seeks people to devour (1 Peter 5:8)–all aspects of rationality and will. Angels also made a choice, with some choosing to leave their first abode (Jude 6). Angels interact with people in ways that mirrors the rationality of humanity. I believe that the image of God must be something more than rationality and will.
Further, I do not find the relational aspect fully to be satisfactory either. Certain animals are very relational and communicative. Dolphins, for instance, communicate with each other and relate closely with each other. There is, however, an aspect of the relational view that strikes me as perhaps supported in Scripture. Humanity is given a unique relationship with God.
Finally, I do not find the functional aspect to be a complete answer. If the image is that man is given functions similar to the Divine; namely the role of ruling over creation, then Satan would also be made in God’s image since he rules as well (John 14:30; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). Yet, the image of God is not something ever said to apply to Satan.
In my thinking, an answer to this question must rest in part on the context of these words within Scripture. The terms “image” and “likeness” are used again with respect to Adam and Seth (Genesis 5:3). Seth was made in the image and likeness of Adam. I think that God intended us to understand image and likeness in both passages (Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:3) as conveying similar ideas. We understand what it is to be made in the image and likeness of God when we understand what it means for a son to be in the image and likeness of his father. The image is not moral, as godly fathers can beget ungodly sons. The image is not rooted in close relationships, as sons and fathers can be estranged. Nor is the image rooted in rationality and will, as a father can beget a son who lacks rationality (perhaps severe brain damage), and yet the son is still in the image of the father.
Rather, what the image of a son to a father means is that the son shares the essential characteristics of the father. The son is human and displays throughout his life a form of humanity. In his essence, he is of his father.
When we look to Jesus, who was the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), we find also that the image means that Jesus shares the essential characteristics of the father. He is divine and displays throughout His life this divinity. In His essence, He is of His Father. As Hebrews 1:3 states, He is the express image of God.
It is in this sharing of the essence of the other that I find meaning to the phrase “image of God.” As Ireneus argues, the image of God is not found in any part of man, but in the whole of man, the body, soul, and spirit of man commingled and united in one being. (Against Heresies, Bk. 4, Ch. 6.) This is seen in the Son, who is also stated to be in the image of God. Ireneus notes this, stating: “When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word.” (Against Heresies, Bk. 4, ch. 16.) Stated another way, Christ establishes for us what the image of God looks like, and it is this essence of the deity infused into humanity that composes the image of God. Ireneus sees the presence of the Spirit of God as being key to a full expression of the image of God in humanity. Thus, as Ireneus argues, man without the Spirit of God possesses the image of God in his formation, but lacks the likeness of God which comes only with the Spirit of God. (Against Heresies, Bk. 4, Ch. 6.) He advances the argument by stating that a man without a body, soul, or spirit, would not be said to be in the image of God. It is the commingling of the three in one person that places man within God’s image. Stated more simply, we share the image of God in the complexity wrapped up in simplicity that makes up our essential being.
When I go back to Genesis 1:26-27, this is what I see. We have complexity “Let us make,” “Our image,” and “Our likeness” and simplicity “So God created,” “His own image,” and “in the image of God.” The plurality and singleness of God is duplicated within the plurality and singleness of mankind.
But there is more. Mankind, even in a fallen state, has a unique relationship with God. God’s love and focus is on us. Thus, I think Ireneus is right in arguing that the image deals also with the close and unique connection we have with our Father. Without the presence of the Spirit of God, that is without our spiritual aspect being made alive, we fail to reflect the image of God perfectly. But with the Spirit of God, our spirits are made alive and we grow into His image, much like a son grows into the image of his adult father.
There also is an aspect of the image that has to do with the functionality of people. Jesus not only existed in the image of God fully, but He reflected the image of God perfectly in the things He did and the way He lived. So, as part of the image of God, we are called to do the same (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). I believe this is also the idea of Romans 8:29, where we are predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. When we display love, compassion, grace, goodness, righteousness, and peace, we are displaying the image of God. When we rule over creation wisely, we are reflecting the image of God. The goal of believers is not only to be in the image of God, but to display fully that image in our lives by displaying what He is like to this world.
Thus, I see the image of God as being substantial (we are created in complexity commingled in simplicity), relational (centered on the spiritual life given uniquely to humanity), and functional (reflected in what we say and do). In these ways we reflect His image.
I hope this helps. May the Lord Jesus continue to guide you to live a life reflecting Him.
In His service,