In His Image
©Copyright January 10, 1999 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
I believe the most basic and urgent questions of life are: Who Am I? And Why am I here? Some people spend a lifetime trying to “find themselves”. But the answer to these questions is found right at the beginning of the Bible. God wastes no time getting to these core issues. In fact, I’m sure you’ve read these verses yourself. In Genesis chapter one verses 26, and 27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it –I give every green plant for food. And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (1:26-30)
Look at what these words tell us,
1. WE ARE UNIQUE
Perhaps you know that I love dogs. But I hope you also know that even though dogs sometimes act almost human (and sometimes are more fun than humans) they are NOT human. Animals are NOT people!
The Biblical testimony is that God made men and women with a uniqueness that was not present in the other things He created. Only men and women were created in God’s image. Only human beings have this special honor and privilege. Only mankind had God breathe life into them. We are unique among all creation.
At night you can look up at the stars. Scientists tell us that the light we are seeing from those stars is millions of years old. Some of the stars we see, aren’t even there anymore. They also tell us that those stars are moving farther and farther away from us. If you ponder these facts it is possible to feel very small and very insignificant. The universe we live in is beyond our comprehension. But the God who made the stars and everything else in the universe also made us. In the midst of this overwhelming universe God made us in a way that sets us apart from everything else He created. We may feel insignificant but we are very significant indeed!
The real trouble with the world today is that man does not know who he is and what he is; he does not realize his own greatness. For instance, the theory of evolution is an utter insult to man from the standpoint of the Biblical account — man is great and glorious and wonderful in the mind and conception of God.” (Lloyd-Jones GOD THE FATHER p. 169)
Human beings are not a product of chance. We are specially created. God knows you! He knows your name! With the Psalmist we can declare, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139). This is what sets us apart. God created us and proclaimed us “very good”.
This uniqueness is why God takes acts of violence we do to each other with great seriousness. Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” The Bible tells us that if we kill another human being (I would argue that this includes a pre-birth child) we have taken violent action against Him. These people are declared guilty of a capital offense in the Bible and given the death penalty by God.
This is why we stand against: abortion, the disposal of “defective children” and physician assisted suicide. We have no right to take such action against that which was created in God’s image. When we do such things we demean what God esteems. Our act of violence is not only against another human being . . . it is against God! God calls us to cherish and respect life.
In fact, Jesus tells us
MT 5:21,22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder,* and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother* will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,* ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Do you hear what He is saying? Because we are created as unique people in His image, we should not even speak with violence toward another. To do so is to offend the Holy God who made that person.
I dare you to try a little experiment . . . go up to some parent who loves their child and act harshly toward the child. Watch and see what happens! The parent will take personal offense. Why? You aren’t doing anything to the parent. But of course you are. The tie between parent and child is unique and special. That child was created “in the image” of the parent in one sense. They are a special product of the parent’s love. If you attack the child you attack the parent. That child may not be perfect. They may be doing a number of stupid things . . . but they are still our child. And we love them.
Please understand, I’m not suggesting that we have a mass execution. Frankly if we took everyone who has ever cursed someone or engaged in some act of recklessness toward another, there wouldn’t be many (if any) people left. The Bible does leave room for grace. But what we must not do is allow God’s grace to serve as a license for reckless disregard for other human beings. We must be careful. On any given evening you might watch television and see people slaughtered. Life is portrayed as disposable. It may be in a news report, or it could be on a television program. Friends, beware. Constant exposure to such things deadens our regard for the lives of others.
2. WE WERE CREATED TO REFLECT GOD’S GREATNESS
We were not created in the image of the Hollywood star (or starlet). We were not created in the image of the super-star athlete. We were not created in the image of the power-laden executive or the consumptive consumer. We were created in His image. We were created to reflect God’s greatness.
We must note what this does not mean. The Mormon church takes these words and concludes that God has a body like we do. If God made us in His image, and we have bodies . . . therefore, God must look something like us. In fact, they would continue, we are all “gods in the making”. I hope you immediately see the foolishness of thinking that we could ever be gods. I find no comfort in the thought that God is as unpredictible as I am.
Imagine if you will, an artist. This artist creates a self-portrait. This self-portrait is something which is in the “likeness” or “image” of the artist. It looks like the artist but is not the artist. No one thinks that the painting and the person are of the same essence and being. Being made in His image does not make us “gods”.
Being made in God’s likeness means that we possess characteristics that are also found in God. It is similar to the way children often reflect the characteristics, mannerisms and appearance of their parents. There are several dimensions to this “image of God” in us.
- There is a spiritual dimension. We were created as people with a soul and spirit. There is an “invisibility” about us. What I mean is this. When you look at yourself in the mirror you know that you only see the surface . . . the real you is inside. We call it our “true self” or our personality. It is the part of us that nobody sees. In this sense we are like God who is Spirit.
- There is an intellectual dimension. Only human beings can reason and think, analyze and meditate. Our dog looks like she is thinking sometimes but certainly not on the level we do. We are able to weigh options. We wrestle with our conscience and make reasoned choices. These traits reflect God’s unmatched wisdom.
- And there is a moral dimension originally given to us. Lloyd-Jones says,
Man was made intellectually and morally in such a way that there was a kind of integrity about him, nothing false, nothing imperfect, nothing wrong. There was a straightness, and uprightness. There was a truth. His nature was one; it was balanced; it was exactly what it was meant to be: moral and intellectual integrity, expressing themselves in “righteousness and true holiness.’ (Eph. 4:24) [God the Father, p. 173]
As we say these things we are aware that sin has destroyed that moral dimension and it has certainly smudged the intellectual dimension. But God’s image in us is not erased completely. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses of His likeness. If you look around every once in a while you will see the Father reflected in His people.
3. WE WERE GIVEN THE TASK OF CARING FOR GOD’S CREATION
God told Adam that His purpose for him and his family was to be caretakers of the earth. He was to multiply and fill the earth and to rule over all God’s creation. Now, right off the bat some people will feel that the idea that we are to rule over and subdue the earth means that we can do whatever we want. But God is not giving us a license for recklessness. The idea of rule and subdue also means to organize and care for. In fact, in Genesis 2 God tells Adam to tend the Garden that He has given men. This is more the idea of being a faithful steward than it is to dominate.
Think of what it would mean if someone told you to rule over the fields of their farmland and subdue it? Would that mean you could do whatever you wanted on that land? Would you drive around with your friends in your trucks and make all kinds of neat tracks in the mud? Would you put your garbage out in the fields? No. The person who told you to rule and subdue the farmland was really telling you to make it productive. They meant you should cultivate the ground and subdue the weeds and bugs. Having dominion over the earth does not give us license as much as it gives us a responsibility. God has entrusted us with the task of taking care of His creation. We have not done a very good job.
Now, I don’t want to turn you into some Greenpeace tree-hugger. But I do want you to understand that we have a responsibility to our environment and the world God has made. The problems of pollution, waste, the rain forest and other things is not God’s fault. It is ours. He gave us the job to rule over and subdue it.
There are several lessons we have already alluded to:
- We were created special so that God could reveal to us the wonder of His glory. Understand and cherish the unique privilege and position we have been given. Gaze up at the sky and marvel that you can be known by God in the vastness of such a world. You may not feel significant . . .but you are. The world may not notice you . . . but the Father does.
- We were made to uniquely reflect the nature and character of God. How well are you reflecting the Father? The next time you look in a mirror ask yourself that question. Ask, Do others see Jesus in me?
- We were created with the awesome privilege of being a steward over God’s Created order. Have you taken this world for granted? The next time you see garbage on the sidewalk . . .pick it up. The next time you are tempted to abuse the environment, refrain. Do it, not to “save the world” but to show your love and faithfulness to our Creator and Lord.
One more thing. This passage tells us that we were made to have fellowship with God. And because of sin we now have a God-sized hole in our being. We are complete only when we are reunited with Him. St. Augustine said, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Everyone (even those who deny it most forcefully) has an emptiness in their soul that they long to fill. Most try to fill it with things: power, money, stuff, amusements, relationships, experiences. Some look to alcohol, others to drugs, others to criminal thrill seeking. Some end up giving up on life. But they are all looking. They run faster in the hope that they can silence the cry of emptiness. But the only way to fill the emptiness is to rebuild our relationship with God. We need to find, trust, and follow Jesus.
Are you searching for something today? Do you have a sense that something is missing in your life? Let’s do a little personal inventory.
- Have you trusted His provision for your sin? Have you believed in and trusted Jesus? Are you willing to place your confidence in what He did on the cross for you? Are you willing to stop trying to rationalize your sin and turn to Christ for forgiveness? If you are, why don’t you do just that right now?
- Are you spending time with God or does everything else get priority in your life? Are you running faster trying to find what can only be found by being still before God?
- Are you trying to be like someone in the world? Do you find yourself admiring and copying those who have no regard for God? Are you trying to reflect their image? Do you see that you are heading down a dead end road? It’s time to turn to the one who made you for Himself. It’s time to listen to Him who speaks truth and to rest in the arms of the one who made us to be a unique reflection of Himself.
The gospel message is simple: We have been separated from God and we can’t find our way back to Him. So God sent Christ to build a bridge, to take our hand, and to lead us to the One we have been longing for all our lives.