He reflects on the fact that man is made in God’s image —
As the image of God, ruler over creation and co-creator with the Uncreated Maker, man has the task to “reflect” God in creation; to make His presence, His will and His powers spread throughout the universe; to transform all that exists into the paradise of God. In this sense man is definitely created for a destiny higher than the bodiless powers of heaven, the angels. …
[T]o bear the image of God is to be like Christ, the uncreated Image of God, and to share in all of the spiritual attributes of divinity. It is, in the words of the holy fathers, to become by divine grace all that God Himself is by nature. If God is a free, spiritual, personal Being, so human beings, male and female, are to be the same. If God is so powerful and creative, having dominion over all creation, so human creatures, made in His image and according to His likeness, are also to exercise dominion in the world. If God exercises dominion and authority not by tyranny and oppression, but by loving kindness and service, so are His creatures to do likewise. If God Himself is love, mercy, compassion and care in all things, so must His creatures, made to be like Him, also be the same. And finally, if God lives forever in eternal life, never dying, but always existing in perfectly joyful and harmonious beauty and happiness with all of creation, so too are human beings made for everlasting life in joyful and harmonious communion with God and the whole of creation.
Powerful stuff. We Protestants aren’t accustomed to speak of man as being like God. We usually think of God as too holy, too distant, too powerful for this. We cannot imagine trying to be like God. And, of course, there’s some real truth to how very far above mere man God is.
However, we are taught —
(Eph 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
V. 1 is pretty plain. We Christians are to imitate God. And I think Hopko expresses it well. We obviously don’t imitate God by being omnipotent or omnipresent, but we do imitate his character and even, in a sense, his role in the universe. After all, we are his emissaries
— his representatives — his priests to represent him to those in the world who don’t know him.
Human nature, therefore, is created by God to grow and develop through participation in the nature of God for all eternity. Man is made to become ever more Godlike forever, even in the Kingdom of God at the end of this age, when Christ will come again in glory to raise the dead and give life to those who love Him.
At first glance, this seems a little much — over-reading the evidence, even. But we know from the Revelation that in the afterlife our role will be to worship and serve God. And we become like what we worship.
Those who worship a legalistic God who is stingy with his forgiveness and unloving in his judgments tend to become just like that. Those who worship a God of grace who gives of himself without regard to merit become like that as well. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine that when we’re with God in the new heavens and new earth, seeing him face to face, we’ll know him far better than we do now and so be drawn to become more and more like him in eternity.
And all this especially makes sense when we recall that we’re made in the image and likeness of God. Of course, we are to imitate God! How else could we be his image?
And if the Creation is God’s temple, and we are God’s image in that temple, what could be more central to our purpose than for others to be able to look at us and see God?
(1Co 11:1 ESV) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
(1Th 1:6-7 ESV) 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.