Sunday, June 29, 2014

C5. Human beings were created in the image of God.

Almost done with the section on creation. Here is the next post in my theology in bullet points series. The previous one is here.
Genesis 1:27 reads, "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Christians believe that humanity was created in the image of God. But what is the image of God?

Basically, to say we were created in the image of God indicates that God created us like him in one way or another. Some Christians think the image of God is something "in" us, like our reason or moral thinking. Others think it is something about us, like our place in relation to the rest of God's creation. Others think it is our ability to form relationships. No doubt these are all ways in which we are like God.

1. There seems to be some truth, therefore, in all these suggestions, and we might summarize four ways in which we were created in God's image. First, 1) we were created in the "governmental" image of God. God created humanity at the top of the food chain. This seems to be the original meaning of Genesis 1:27, for the previous verse reads, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Genesis thus draws a direct connection between humanity being God's image and our function as the dominant species of the earth. Humanity was created to have "glory and honor" within the creation (e.g., Heb. 2:6-8). You can see the parallel between God and humanity here. God rules the heavens and earth. Humanity rules the life of the earth.

From a Christian standpoint, this is not license to destroy the earth but, especially in the modern day and age, a responsibility to steward the creation for God. We have "subdued" the earth more than at any other point in history (Gen. 1:28). Now, like the stewards to whom the king gave various amounts of money to keep for him (e.g., Matt. 24:14-30), we must take care of God's creation in a way that will return him a healthy, prosperous earth.

2. Two other key dimensions of the image of God in humanity are 2) natural image and 3) the moral image. John Wesley speaks of these two in his sermon, "The End of Christ's Coming," meaning the purpose of Christ's Coming. The natural image, for Wesley, consists of human a) understanding, b) will, and c) freedom. All of these were marred, according to Wesley, when Adam sinned.

Like God, humans have understanding of their world. Like God, humans make decisions with their will. Like God humans have the freedom to choose one thing over another. All of these were seriously impaired, Wesley taught, when Adam sinned.

However, even prior to the Fall, there were key differences between us and God. Adam may have reasoned more perfectly than us, but his knowledge was still finite. By contrast, God's intellect is infinite and his knowledge is infinite. In fact, he creates truth.

So we might say that part of the image of God in us is our ability to reason and make choices. [1]

3. The moral image of God in us, according to Wesley, was the "righteousness and true holiness" that Adam had originally. For Wesley, Calvin, and Augustine before them, humanity completely lost the moral image of God in the Fall. No one is able now, in his or her own power, truly to do good.

But originally, these all believed, Adam was free and able not to sin if he had so chosen (posse non peccare, "able not to sin"). Part of the original image of God, now completely lost, was the ability to act morally according to our own free will.

4. Modern theologians like Karl Barth an Emil Brunner have added a modern touch to the image of God by suggesting that it is in relationship with God and others that we show ourselves to be in the image of God. As the members of the Trinity have related to each other from all eternity past, so now we demonstrate the image of God as we exist in relationship with him and with each other.

5. Most of these conceptions of the image of God go well beyond the biblical use of the word. In the Old Testament, as we have already shown, humanity has a certain glory and honor, a prime of place, within the creation as a "reflection of God." You don't kill another human being the way you might kill a deer because it is like attacking God (cf. Gen. 9:6).

James 3:9 continues this line of thought in the New Testament. You shouldn't curse another human being because all human beings are made in God's likeness. All human beings deserve a certain dignity and respect because they are reminiscences of God on the earth. Christians don't treat other human beings as mere animals.

Christ, as the perfect human, is the image of God par excellence. He is the "image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15). Those who have seen Jesus, have seen the Father (John 14:9).

God created human beings as his "image" on the earth. He crowned humanity with glory and honor in the creation. He created them to rule and steward the earth. He created them to explore and discover. He gave us minds to think and wills to choose. He created us for relationships with him and each other. He created us to be good, and wants to restore that broken image even today.

I am my brother's keeper. I must treat all other human beings with respect, for all human beings were created in the image of God.

Next Sunday: C6. God intended us to live forever.

[1] Most Christian pictures of human make-up from the past are "pre-modern." That is to say, they take humanity as it appears within the paradigms and worldview of the thinker and see that pattern as something that is really within a person. They take an understanding that is "phenomenological" (the world as it appears to us) and unreflectively assume it is "ontological" (part of a person's actual being).

So to say the human mind is composed of intellect, emotion, and will is a fine reflection of human mind as it appears to us, as it functions in the world. But we shouldn't confuse this breakdown with the actual composition of the human brain in some way. It is a great "heuristic" model for thinking about the way our minds work. It is functionally true. It works to describe the way we behave.

All biblical breakdowns of human personality are phenomenological. We should not take language of the soul, bipartite or tripartite, as literal language of our actual composition. These are rather pictures of human beings as we function in the world, framed within the paradigms and worldviews of the biblical authors. The next article discusses the soul.

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