Rethinking the Image of God in Light of Those with Severe Cognitive Disabilities – page 1


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From the Winter 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Rethinking the Image of God in Light of Those with Severe Cognitive Disabilities

by George C. Hammond, D.Min.
Teaching Fellow, C.S. Lewis Insitute - Loudoun County Pastor, Bethel Presbyterian Church


Then 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.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

— Genesis 1:26 – 27 ESV

hat does it mean for human beings to be created in the image of God? Theologians throughout the centuries have given different answers to this question. An early approach to the doctrine was to look for the image of God in those qualities that separate human beings from animals. This often included all or any combination of humankind’s ability for abstract reasoning, the capacity for language, and the ability to exercise dominion over the rest of creation. Some early theologians included the upright posture of human beings: while the beasts gaze at the earth, human beings stand upright and can look to heaven.1

Theological Models and Their Brush with Realities

  Due to the influence of neo-Platonism,2 throughout the medieval period there was a growing tendency to associate the image of God with only the incorporeal aspect of human beings, seeing the image of God as consisting in things such as the soul, or the intellect, memory, and will. In the church’s reformation in the sixteenth century, the doctrine of the image of God was reassessed; while there were some significant exegetical insights, there was little practical shift or progress in the understanding of the doctrine or its practical implications.
  In the early twentieth century, Karl Barth suggested that the image of God is reflected in relationship. He reasoned that because God is triune — one God eternally existing in three distinct Persons — the image of God is found, not in an analogia entis (an analogy of being), but in an analogia relationis (an analogy of relationship).

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