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The term imago Dei refers to two things: first, God’s own self-actualization through humankind; and second, God’s care for humankind. To say that humans are in the image of God is to recognize the special qualities of human nature which allow God to be made manifest in humans. In other words, for humans to have the conscious recognition of their being in the image of God means that they are the creature whom God’s plans and purposes can be made known and actualized; humans, in this way, can be seen as co-creators with God. The moral implications of the doctrine of imago Dei are apparent in the fact that if humans are to love God, then humans must love other humans, as each is an expression of God. The human’s likeness to God can also be understood by contrasting it with that which does not image God, i.e., beings who, as far as we know, are without self-consciousness and the capacity for spiritual/ moral reflection and growth. Humans differ from all other creatures because of their rational structure – their capacity for deliberation and free decision-making. This freedom gives the human a centeredness and completeness which allows the possibility for self-actualization and participation in a sacred reality. However, the freedom which makes the human in God’s image is the same freedom which manifests itself in estrangement from God, as the myth of the Fall (Adam and Eve) exemplifies. According to this myth, humans can, in their freedom, choose to deny or repress their spiritual and moral likeness to God. The ability and desire to love one’s self and others, and therefore, God, can become neglected and even opposed. Striving to bring about the imago Dei in one’s life can be seen as the quest for wholeness, or one’s “essential” self, as pointed to in Christ’s life and teachings.

It applies to healthcare in such a way because in healthcare we try to keep ourselves and our patients in “perfect health”. Christian view is to live without sin in a pure and perfect way of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948 defined health as “the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” For years we have tried and some have unofficially added the term “spiritual” to the definition; the state of complete physical mental, social and spiritual well-being… While this definition has served WHO and others well for many years, it somehow didn’t capture what I believed about health.

Ross, M. (n.d.). Imago Dei. Retrieved from Ligonier Ministries: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/imago-dei/

Shelly, Judith Allen, and Miller, Arlene B (2006). Called to Care. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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