Many modern theologians see these approaches to the image of God as complementary rather than being in competition with each other. Most of them, however, will see one approach as predominant, and the other approaches as supplemental.4
There’s a difficulty with these approaches. They all contemplate the image of God with respect to typical human beings.
Imagine with me a young couple eagerly expecting the birth of their first child. Everything has gone as expected with the pregnancy. As soon as the baby is born, however, there is a flurry of activity and whispers. Although they’ve never done this before, the couple intuitively senses that something is wrong. Rather than being given to the mother, the baby is whisked away for a series of tests. One of the doctors explains that “there appear to be abnormalities, but we can’t say more without tests.”
Hours later a doctor with grave expression comes in to speak with the parents as the baby is brought back into the room. The baby has been diagnosed with lissencephaly, a rare brain disorder in which the gyri (folds) and sulci (grooves) of the cerebral cortex have not developed. With medications, they can control the seizures, but his condition is severe; his intellectual, social, and motor development will never progress beyond that of a three-month-old.
Is this child made in the image of God? Reflexively Christians will answer yes, but how does such a child fit our theological paradigms? The child will never have the capacity for abstract reasoning, for the development of receptive or expressive language, and he will never exercise authority over anything, including his own basic physical needs. At best there will be no expression of and at worst no existence of capacities such as memory and will. He will never marry and is unlikely to have many relationships outside of his immediate family. Depending on the severity of his condition he may be little aware of the existence of other people.
If, as is traditionally held, the image of God is to be found in the intellect, in abilities and attributes that separate humans from animals, then to say that such a person is made in the image of God seems to be merely sentimental wishful thinking, for this person bears none of the criteria necessary to be made in the image of God.
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