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What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 3: In The Image of God, Darkly

The human race is made in God’s image. But unlike David and his creator from “Alien: Covenant,” that does not mean God looks like us physically.

The previous installment of this series used the aliens of Arrival as an example of how science fiction has at times shown aliens who are radically different from humans and also affirmed that such “alien” aliens teach us something about God. Because the God of the Bible in many ways is fundamentally different from human beings.

A natural objection to this idea comes from the question, “But aren’t humans made in the image of God? Doesn’t that mean God is like us?”

David from Alien: Covenant is shown to be in the literal image of his master. He looks human, even though as an android, he is not. Is the image of God like that for human beings? Are we basically the same as God, with only a few differences?

David stands with his creator (Alien: Covenant).

While we reflect some characteristics of God and in that sense are “in his image,” the Bible, when carefully studied, makes it plain that the image of God in the human race should neither be taken literally as referring to physical form, nor should it be taken as all-encompassing.

The Image of God does not refer to physical form:

  1. God has never been seen / is invisible. John 1:18, I Timothy 1:17
  2. God has no physical form / is a spirit. Deuteronomy 4:12, John 5:37, John 4:24
  3. God (the Father) has never been seen. John 6:46
  4. God dwells in “unapproachable light” and cannot be seen I Timothy 6:16 / no man can see him and live Exodus 33:20
  5. God on the throne shows colors and lightning and thunder, but no physical form is seen. Revelation 4:2-3
  6. God appears or is described in various “forms” but they are not his real nature: As a man, Gen. 32:22-30. Beheld by elders of Israel (sapphire under their feet), Ex. 24:9-11. Seated on a throne, Isaiah 6:1-6. As the “angel of the Lord,” Judges 6:22-23; 13:21-23; as having wings, Pslam 91:4, Deut 32:11 (uses “like” before mentioning wings), Psalm 17:8, Psalm 36:7, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 61:4, Psalm 63:7, Jeremiah 49:2; as pillars of cloud and fire, Exodus 13:21
  7. Seeing God “face to face” is a figure of speech in the Bible and is not the same as seeing his face: Compare Ex. 33:9-11 to 33:18-23 (Seeing the Lord “face to face” is specifically linked to seeing the pillars of cloud and fire in Numbers 14:14.)
  8. Jesus is the only visible manifestation of God: Hebrews 1:1-3, Col 1:15. I.e. neither God the Father nor God the Spirit are physically visible (even though they can symbolically manifest themselves such as through the voice of God or a descending dove or by other means).
  9. God can be found in every place (is infinite), Psalm 139:8 / but is not contained in any part of the universe, I Kings 8:27
  10. We cannot in fact fully understand God as he is, but will understand better in the future: I Cor 13:12 (we see through a glass darkly), I John 3:2

Though it is true that in the Trinitarian concept of God, Jesus has a physical body that can be seen, thinking of human beings as having been created in the image of Jesus, who the Bible says was made into the likeness of a human being (Phil. 2:7) creates a rather chicken-or-the-egg problem I won’t try to resolve here. But the general Christian thinking on human beings “in the image of God” has been we are in the image of God the Father, not the Son.

And even though some Christians have imagined God the Father to look like a human being, that view is not justified by Scriptures. Which portray God as an invisible spirit without a body that permeates the universe–who can show himself in physical manifestations that are not in fact him.

Yet that spirit sees—so he created us with eyes. He hears—so we have ears. He moves as he wishes—so we have legs to walk. He handles the substance of the universe—so he gave us hands. He uses language and mathematics and creative art—and enables human beings to do the same through our brain.

God distilled elements of his nature into human beings to create them in his “image.” But we cannot think we reflect him in every way. That image is NOT all-encompassing.

We are clearly limited to one place, one time, one moment, one physical self that is joined to a spiritual self. We know but only in part. We see, but only in part. We are a refection of the image of God, but not a full one. Especially with our capacity to constantly change our minds, to forget, to lie, to sin—we are but a dark reflection of what God is.

So when we look at the God who created us, he is not like the god we humans have created in our own image, the Pagan gods. Who are stronger and more beautiful than us and immortal but who still have physical bodies. Who still have love affairs and petty interests and jealous bickering.

Jehovah is not like them at all. He is beyond the imagination of the human race, transcendent. Or to use another term, he is “alien” to us. Far more different from us than Alien Covenant’s  David was from his creator.

Next time we will look at how an “ancient alien” explanation of God fails to explain his “alien” nature. But for now, what do you think of this topic? What do you think “being made in the image of God” means? Would you agree that the nature of God marks him as being in some ways a fundamental different type of intelligence than a human being—that the human race being “in his image” is only in a limited sense?

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.

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Parker J. Cole

Great post. The way I understand it is that we have God’s communicable attributes, as you mentioned above. A dark reflection of hearing, seeing, creativity (something Wayland refused David which I will talk about in a minute) and other elements. We do not have God’s incommunicable attributes — His perfection, His omniscience, His holiness, and many, many more things that we’ll partake of in new bodies that can handle such wonderfulness.

In the movie Covenant, since you’re using the illustration, David abhors Wayland because he doesn’t see what the big deal is. Wayland is his father and creator but he, the offspring, is much better than him. He’ll never die of natural causes (which for some reason in current sci-fi, one’s ability to negate death seems to be a deciding factor in what makes a person seem superior), supposedly has higher intellect, and so forth and so on. Wayland, aware of his own limitations, still makes an interesting rejoiner to David’s taunt — “Go make me some tea.” Or something like that, thus putting David in his place of submission.

Humans have to assert their authority in some way. Even the aliens in your last post with Arrival expressed their authority in understanding a non-linear concept of time. Side note: why are all the aliens wearing tentacles lately????

God does not have to assert His authority. I think that’s something in and of itself. We’re always trying to prove ourselves to each other or if not to each other, to ourselves. God does not have to jump out of heaven and time and explain His actions to us. That is an alien concept even if we don’t full grasp it. If anything, when the hard questions of life come to us, the Lord says, “I am with you.” “I have never left you.” It’s a very different response to how Wayland responded to David’s comment.

*spoiler alert* After Wayland dies, David becomes obsessed with creation. It’s not certain, at least to me, if Elizabeth Shaw was killed by him or if she died, but along with her organs which he removes from her, he uses the ‘black death’ of the progenitors (another interesting aspect which will take too long to get into) to create life. However, he does not have the human capacity to understand with the creation of life comes a certain reserve and responsibility. With all of his supposed intellect, he does not have, at bare minimum, a basic understanding of ethics which is why he can smile when the first baby Xenomorph steps out the one guy’s chest. (Classic!)

Unlike humans who would ‘create life’, artificial, synthetic, or modified, God put within us His sense of morality and a inborn instinct of right and wrong.

These communicable attributes nearly blows our minds up at times which is why we has humans, made in His image, are limited.

I think I kind of rambled because I had a lot of thoughts about Covenant. It wasn’t my favorite alien movie. I hated Prometheus by the way.