Ecclesiastes is not the first place one might look in the Bible for an inspiringly positive message. “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full,” says the Preacher, “all things are wearisome” (Eccl 1:7). Yet St Thomas Aquinas found in this verse a metaphor for humanity’s exalted place within Creation: the “streams” are the “natural gifts which God has provided for his creatures: being, life, intelligence”, which are “regrouped in man, for he is a sort of horizon … where bodily and spiritual nature meet.”
This spiritual aspect of human nature is the reason we are described, both in Scripture and Tradition, as being made in God’s image and likeness. When God declares he will create humanity “in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen 1:26), this does not refer to a physical likeness; it refers to certain God-given capacities which are not only proper to our human nature but also unique to it. Put simply, we are made in God’s image because we alone have been made capable of knowing and loving as God does. We alone, “of all visible creatures” are “called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life” (CCC 356).
It matters, too, that God refers to Himself in the plural in this particular act of creation. For we are made in the image of a God who is a community – a community of Father, Son and Spirit – and thus we find “the likeness of the unity of the divine persons” of the Trinity in human community (CCC 1702). Made in the image of the Trinitarian God, we are called to be human not in isolation, but in communion with others, whether that communion be in our natural family, our convent or our parish.
We can think of sin as a distorting of this divine image. As with a cracked mirror, our ability to reflect God’s image and likeness is thwarted when knowledge and love is damaged by sin. To restore His image within us, God sends His Son, Jesus Christ, who is not in the image of God, but is Himself that “image of the invisible God” (2 Cor 4:4). Christ reveals to us the fundamental compatibility between God and humanity by taking upon Himself the whole of our nature, living a life of human knowing and loving that is not made less human by His divinity, but more so. Through Christ, we learn not only that God is good, but that we too are good: that everything about us that makes us truly human is given to us by God as a reflection, an image, of His own pre-eminent goodness.
Created in the divine image and living in union with that Image made flesh, our lives – whatever our age, our circumstances, or our physical and intellectual abilities – show forth the glory of the God who made us capable of knowing and loving as He does.
To be created in God’s image and likeness, and to have had that image restored by the grace of Christ, is a call to live human life fully, authentically and joyfully.