God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
This was important to the Israelites because in Egypt they were treated like beasts. They were Pharaoh’s slaves, and their primary job was to make bricks. And if they did not make their quota, they were given a beating (Exodus 5:1-18). Whole generations lived and died under the hot Egyptian sun, working like beasts and considered little more.
But here we learn that there is a qualitative difference between people and animals. People are made in the image of God; animals are not. It is not a matter of degree, but of kind, dignity and worth. Without clarity on this point, we will treat people like animals, and animals like people. In fact, there are places where cattle are treated with honor, while people go hungry. This is one reason the Bible matters.
The image of God is also that which allows us to know God personally. You cannot have a personal relationship with a turtle, because a turtle is too different from you. And you cannot have a meaningful conversation with a cat, because a cat is too different from you too. But you can know God more deeply than you know your spouse, because you were made in the image of God.
This is also why the Bible allows capital punishment in the case of murder. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind (Genesis 9:6), wrote Moses. God sees murdering others as an attack on himself because every human being bears the image of God.
This is also why it is wrong to curse other people. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. . . . this should not be (James 3:9-10), wrote James.
Before we curse another person, or make an obscene gesture, we should remember whose image they bear. The image of God is so basic to our humanity, and to the ordering of society, that it is found in the very first chapter of the Bible.
Furthermore, God created people in his image because he planned to become one of us. When Christ came into the world, God took on our humanity, never to put it off (Hebrews 7:17). For all eternity we will relate to God through Jesus Christ, who is both truly God and truly human.