STUDY EIGHT: CREATION IN THE IMAGE OF GOD - Genesis 1:26,27
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
A. THE VALUE OF THE HUMAN
Contrary to evolutionary theories that violate and devalue or even deny our distinct humanness, our creation by God endows us with high value. We are not here by random changes brought about by blind and purposeless chance: we are here by God’s design and God’s deliberate action. We are here as a result of God’s decision to create us, in the form that he decided to create us.
The fact of creation by God gives meaning, value and purpose to everything, including human life.
Task #1: Study what these verses teach, and discuss the high value they put on all human beings.
1 Corinthians 8:6
These verses teach us that we are:
A.1 Created by God
Every human being has his/her life and breath from God’s hand [Acts 17:25]
Every human being originates from God [Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6]
Every human being was created by Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:16]
A.2 Sustained by God
Every human being’s existence at this very moment depends on God [Acts 17:28]
Every human being’s existence at this very moment is ‘through’ God [Romans 11:36]
Every human being’s existence at this very moment is ‘through’ Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 8:6]
Every human being’s existence at this very moment is sustained by Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3]
A.3 Created for God
God’s goal and purpose for every human being is God-centred [Romans 11:36]
God’s purpose for every human being’s life is God himself [1 Corinthians 8:6]
Every human being was created for Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:16]
This fact of creation by God for God gives every human being [and ourselves] an extreme value. Every human being is the possession of the Almighty God. Every human being is sustained in life by the word of Jesus Christ. And every human being was created, not for us to use and abuse according to our mood and our purposes, but for God and for his purpose. Every human being is not our possession, our property, our slave, or our toy: he/she is God’s possession and God’s property by virtue of creation.
B. THE UNIQUE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN – Genesis 1:26,27
When God created human beings he gave them a specific identity which distinguished them from everything else he created. Like everything else on the earth humans have physical existence. Like the other living creatures humans possess ‘life’ – the Hebrew uses ‘nephesh’ – ‘living creature’ [refers to animals in 1:21, 24] and ‘living soul’ [KJV] [refers to Adam, 2:7]. But there the similarity ceases.
Humans were not created inanimate and programmed by mechanical law.
Humans were not created animate and programmed by instinct.
Humans were created animate, personal, and free – not programmed: they were created in the ‘image of God’.
This identity, this being created ‘in the image/likeness of God’, gives to human beings a unique value and a unique responsibility. It gives to human beings a significance, a dignity and a role which nothing else can achieve or fulfil, and puts a heavy boundary around the way we view and treat one another.
Debate exists concerning the two words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, and some scholars would give separate meanings to each. However, Hebrew poetic writing commonly repeats its meaning in parallel words, so there is no necessity to define each separately. In addition, 1:26 is the only reference to the creation of man that contains both words; 1:27 has only ‘image’; 5:2 has only ‘likeness’; and 9:6 has only ‘image’.
B.1 The human being was created with the ability, role and responsibility to reflect the being and nature of God
Creation in the image of God, means that the human creature, distinct from all other creatures, was created with the capacity for godliness [= ‘God-like-ness’]. Humans were created with the ability, the role and the responsibility, not to be God, but to express the likeness, the reflection, the qualities, of the nature of God. By virtue of creation in the image of God our divine, created purpose is that we should glorify God: that by our very existing, our very being, we are created for his glory. This is the deep meaning of creation in the image of God.
Task #2: What do these references teach about our purpose/responsibility as humans?
Our human refusal to fulfil this high destiny is everywhere evident, both in the Scripture and as we look around us, including within our own souls. In contrast, the incarnate Word, the second Adam, the one true human being since Genesis 3, the ‘image of God’, fulfilled this human destiny/calling/responsibility. His life is summarised by John with the words ‘we beheld his glory’ [John 1:14], and by Jesus himself ‘I have brought you glory on earth …’ [John 17:4].
And here in the person of the incarnate Christ we see a deep and meaningful truth that helps us to understand God’s purpose for us: that when we most fully image God it is then that we are most fully human; that when we most reflect the glory of God we are ourselves most glorious; that when the likeness of God is most evident in us, it is then, and only then, that we realize and maximize our true identity as ‘human’. [See also B.6 below.]
It is towards fulfilling this God-determined purpose that the indwelling Spirit of God is now doing his transforming work in those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ [2Corinthians 3:18].
B.2 Creation in the image of God gives sanctity to human life
This identity as God’s image-bearers gives an awesome weight and dignity to the human being, and holds each one of us accountable to God for the way we treat our fellow human beings. He does not allow us to treat his image-bearers with contempt or disrespect.
Task #3: Read these verses. Discuss their significance for our attitudes to and treatment of other human beings. [Note that in the Matthew passages Jesus looks behind murder to the emotions and attitudes which give birth to murder, including these also under the judgement of Genesis 9:6.]
B.3 Creation in the image of God identifies humans as moral and spiritual beings
Secular humanism and evolutionism teach that what you see is what you get – that life is no more than the material, physical stuff that we can feel and see, and that the satisfaction of our material and physical [including sexual] needs is all there is to life. Morals are of value only in the service of these needs for the individual or for society. Death is the end.
The image of God factor elevates the concept of ‘human’ beyond this physical, material agenda and into a moral and spiritual dimension where there is a capacity and responsibility for personal communion and eternality. Thus, in our relationship with any human being we are relating to someone who is far more than flesh and blood and body parts; we are relating to someone whose God-given distinguishing essence is spiritual, someone to whom God has given moral capacity, and someone whom God intended, together with us, for spiritual communion with each other and with himself. In other words, God created us persons.
We are not just animal body and animal life - we are persons. This deep fact gives a mysterious and awesome significance to our human neighbour: this other person was created accountable to the Lord God Almighty, and this person was created for communion/communication with God, the high and holy One, who inhabits eternity. The very nature of this person by virtue of creation in the image of God forbids me to treat this person as just a physical body, as mere physical substance and physical life.
B.4 What is ‘the image of God’?
Some people understand the image of God to mean simply that humans can do things that God can do: we can think, we can feel, we can communicate, we can rule. In other words, the image of God is what might be termed ‘ontic’ – it has to do with what we are as humans. And certainly these aspects of the ‘human’ are not absent from the image concept. [Although we do have to be careful here: some animals communicate (think of the social insects – the ant and the bee); some animals rule (think of the pecking order in domestic poultry); some animals feel (think of the guilt in your dog’s eyes when you reprimand him).]
But if we limit the image to these abilities we run into trouble when the New Testament teaches us that the Holy Spirit is gradually changing us into the image as we behold Jesus Christ [2Corinthians 3:18]. None of these abilities were removed by the Genesis 3 fall; none of them needs to be restored. We are still persons; we still think, we still feel, we still communicate, we still rule, albeit sinfully.
Colossians 3:10 informs us that those who believe in Christ ‘have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’.
So we know that there must be something about the image that was lost in the fall – something that made it impossible for us to image God, which is reset when we are regenerated by the Spirit, and from that point on is being renewed. And it is something intimately and intricately connected to knowing God.
In Genesis 1 and 2 we knew God and lived in unimpeded relationship with God. We were face to face with God with nothing disturbing the relationship, nothing corrupting our knowledge of God. This knowledge, this relationship, this living connection is the basis and the reality of the image. This basis is restored when we again know God by seeing and knowing Jesus Christ, and the expression/reality of that image gradually increases under the transforming power of the Spirit as our knowledge of God in and through Christ increases.
B.5 Creation in the image of God assumes a living relationship of dependence on God
An image has no significance in and of itself. It is dependent for its existence and its glory on the existence and the glory of that which it images or reflects. For example:
If there never had been an emperor called Julius Caesar, a marble statue called ‘Julius Caesar’ would have very little significance for anyone except the artist and his fans.
If a mirror is held with its back towards your face, it will never reflect your beauty or good looks; it fulfils its role only when in a face to face relationship with you.
Thus, the human being was created in an uninhibited, unimpeded, positive, knowledge-based, face-to-face relationship with God. Only in such a relationship with God can the image of God be expressed by the human being. Only in this relationship of knowledge-based dependence on God can the human being maximize his/her God-given potential as human. The work of Christ is often termed ‘reconciliation’: by his death we are ‘reconciled with God’. Here our intended relationship with God in which the image is activated, is restored. Here in Christ we live face to face with God.
What does this teach us about our humanness?
That I, as a person created in the image of God, can only be truly and fully human as I live in positive, face-to-face relationship with God, dependent on him for my being, my significance and my glory. I will not seek my significance and my glory, or the meaning of my life, from another human being, for that would be to put him/her in the place of God, a role that it would be impossible for him/her to fulfil.
That I will recognize that my human neighbour is a person created in the image of God, a person whose significance and glory come not from me, nor from him/herself, but from God alone, and who will find his/her fulfilment as a human being in God alone; so I will not presume to usurp or demand the place of God in his/her life.
B.6 Crowned with glory
Creation in the image of God crowns man with glory because God in whose image we are created is glorious. The glory of an image is co-relative to the glory of the object it reflects or portrays.
It is sometimes very difficult to see any trace of glory in man since Genesis 3 – words like degenerate, degraded, dishonoured, despoiled, debauched, disreputable, despairing, depressed, discouraged, disenchanted, dismayed, destroyed, seem far more applicable.
To see in man the glory of God is difficult, but if we look carefully we can sometimes see it shining through the darkness even in unregenerate man: it bursts forth in acts of self-sacrificing compassion; it throbs in the grandeur of some musical compositions; it draws us in great works of art; it enthrals us in the magnificence of some architecture; it beckons us through the silent contentment of ordinary people. But in every instance there is some cloud, some veil, something darkening, hiding, diminishing the glory that was intended.
What it was in Genesis 1 and 2 – this glory of man before the fall – we cannot even imagine. And what it will be when we actually see Christ as he is, is even less imaginable for the Scripture tells us ‘we shall be like him’ [1John 3:1-2].
B.7 Man’s unique standing in the natural world
A further indication of human dignity, and a context for expression of the image, is identified in the role God ordained for humans – that of dominion over the rest of creation.
John Stott comments:
‘Our third distinctive quality as humans is our relationship to the earth and its creatures. God has given us dominion, with instructions to subdue and cultivate the fruitful earth, and rule its creatures. … we may sum up what is meant by human dignity in these three ways: our relationship to God … our relationship to each other … and our relationship to the earth.’ [p155 Issues Facing Christians Today ]
C. IMPLICATIONS OF CREATION IN THE IMAGE OF GOD FOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
There are several contemporary moral issues that appear to have arisen because of our cultural rejection of the truth of creation by God and the widespread acceptance of the evolutionary hypothesis. Each of these involves a rejection of the sanctity of human life in one way or another. These issues include:
Bio-ethical issues – research involving human embryos, human cloning, eugenics
Prevalence of criminal acts involving disrespect of persons
Increasing erosion of sexual standards
The elevation of ‘animal rights’ to the same level as ‘human rights’
Society cannot expect its members to hold human life in high respect when it has deliberately educated its members to regard human life as purely physical and a meaningless result of random changes.
Task #4: Discuss the evidence of disrespect for the human in your society today.