In his sermon “The New Birth,” John Wesley describes what it means to be created in the image of God.
Wesley writes that we are created with a like nature to God. We are immortal spiritual beings with understanding, free will, and affections. We share with God as well the capacity for dominion over the other creatures of the Earth, what Wesley refers to as the political image of God. And we — most importantly for Wesley — share the moral image of God. That is we were created full of love, justice, mercy, and truth.
In other words, Wesley grounds his conception of who we are in the doctrine of creation. It is important for those who want to understand Wesleyan theology because his doctrine of holiness is rooted in the same conception. To be holy is to be restored to our original creation as fully as possible in a world still tainted by sin. His soteriology forms a circle.
It is easy to criticize Wesley’s description of humanity if you mistake his intention as trying to provide a comprehensive, ontological description of humanity. I take Wesley’s intention to be describing humanity in relation to our salvation.
I am intrigued by these matters because of their importance for sorting through a theological and soteriological understanding of autism and similar conditions. If glorification in the eschaton means a restoration of the full image of God, does that mean a person with autism will no longer have limitations on his ability to communicate or his social interactions or no longer be so directed by compulsive behaviors? Does it mean a person with cognitive challenges thinks differently in the new heaven and new earth? Or does the image of God include autism, down syndrome, and other things we call mental disabilities?
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4, NIV)