Every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore each human possesses the intrinsic and inalienable dignities of infinite value, equality, and uniqueness. Such a wondrous creature deserves to live in a world that sustains these dignities fully. The prevalence of poverty, hunger, oppression, war, sickness, and death in this world is a contradiction to these three fundamental dignities. Therefore, Jewish tradition teaches: Do not settle for the world as it is. The world can and will be perfected. This is what modern Jewish theology calls tikkun olam.
But how will the world be perfected? God will not bestow perfection by means of a miracle from on high. Nor will paradise be reached by escaping from this realm of existence to another world of an afterlife. Nor will redemption be achieved by renouncing this world and entering a new, enlightened dimension of existence. Rather, the world will be perfected by a partnership of God and humanity. Humans will participate fully in the process of human liberation and world perfection. But how can we imagine humans participating in a process that is vast, even cosmic? The answer lies in our nature as images of God. Humans have been equipped with the capacity to understand and perfect the world.
How did humans become the image of God? Tradition teaches that there is an all-powerful Infinite Consciousness that creates and sustains the universe and has seeded it with life. God loves life and continuously nurtures it, so life grows to become more and more like God. Just as trees planted in a certain ground will adapt to the chemistry of that earth--an alkaline-based crop will not flourish in acidic soil--so does life, planted in the divine, grow to become like its Maker and Sustainer.
What are God's fundamental capacities? The first is consciousness. The divine, omniscient/infinite consciousness embraces every detail of existence and understands it. Even the trackless stars are counted. "God's consciousness is infinite. God counts the number of the stars, and gives a name to each one" (Psalms 147:3-4). Divine consciousness embraces every detail of the universe; no creature or existent being is alien to that mind. In the human form, life has become so Godlike that human consciousness can penetrate into the divine wisdom that shapes the cosmos. Humans have decoded the code of life, DNA. Through astronomy and cosmology they have begun to grasp the vastness of the cosmic scheme and gain understanding of the incredible forces that drive the universe and supply the energy of life and existence.
God's second capacity is that of relationship, more specifically, the capacity to love. "God is good to all, God's mother love is over all God's creatures" (Psalm 145: 9). The human capacity for love is so God-like that the human can grow to embrace life, to love every creature and form of life, to love one person for a whole lifetime and in every aspect of life monogamously, to love selflessly, even to the sacrifice of life itself.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik asked, Why are humans given the powers and the capacities that make them the image of God? Soloveitchik draws upon the classic halakic (Jewish legal) principle, "A person's messenger/attorney/representative must be like that person" (In Hebrew, Shlucho Shel Adam K'moto). To give someone the power of attorney, to hand over the mission of representing me personally, that person must share my values and my capacities. Only then can the messenger be depended upon to do exactly what I would have done had I gone myself. If God has given humans God's powers and capacities, says Soloveitchik, this must mean that God has a mission for humans: to operate on God's behalf, to serve as God's representatives. His conclusion is that these capacities have been given to humans to complete God's work and perfect the universe.
There is yet another divine capacity that humans share. God is free, absolutely free. God is neither programmed nor restricted nor limited by nature. This quality of freedom is given to humans. True, humans are still conditioned by their genes and chemistry, still shaped by culture and expectations of the social context in which they grow. Yet, as life becomes more and more developed, it becomes more and more capable of freedom. Thus, humans can choose to do evil or to do good. They can use their divine-like consciousness to understand how life works--only to destroy it. They can use their power to make life on earth into a paradise or to make the planet unlivable.