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The Image of God and its Implications

Category Articles
Date June 30, 2009

God created man in his own image. (Genesis 1:27)

On the sixth day of creation, after making cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts, Elohim, in a marvellous intra-Triune council decided to create man in his own image. The word ‘image’ in Hebrew literally means to cut from a stone, much like what Michelangelo did when cutting out his statue of David from that huge piece of marble. The word ‘likeness’ is a further explanation of what Moses means by image. Martin Luther wrongly taught that the image of God in man was totally lost at the fall into sin. John Calvin rightly taught that the Imago Dei, though marred because of the fall, is deep within the soul and is made manifest in all aspects of his being – his mind, emotions, body, and will. Karl Barth wrongly taught, based on Colossians 1:15 (Christ is the image of the invisible God) that Christ is the first man and all others are derivatives of him. This means, according to Barth, that Christ dwells within every man. From this it is not difficult to see how some have become Universalists. Charles Hodge, a great nineteenth century theologian, taught that the image of God within man means that man was supplied with the righteousness, holiness, and knowledge of God in his pre-fallen condition. The image of God in man means that man is self-conscious, self-determinate. He is able to think, emote, worship, and manage. You will also note from the text of Genesis 1:24-31 that man is completely separate from animals.

What does the Imago Dei mean practically for all of us? First, I mention several negatives. It means that there is no room whatsoever for evolution or pantheism. Evolution teaches that man evolved from animals over millions of years. The Bible states directly and emphatically that man was created ex nihilo on the sixth day of creation. This fact also means that we reject pantheism (God is part of everything and everything is part of God). Pantheism is driving the modern environmental movement with its fettish for global warming and the efforts of PETA against the use of animals in scientific experimentation.

The Imago Dei means also that no room exists for racism or bigotry of any kind. I have travelled around the world and I see the same thing in every culture – all peoples have an inherent desire to exalt themselves and their ethnicity over another. This is not limited to racial issues in America. It is true in Japan, Indonesia, Uganda, South Africa, France, and Venezuela, as it is everywhere. There is no room for murder and unjust war. I did not say ‘all wars.’ Unfortunately, due to the sinfulness of man, war is sometimes necessary to protect the welfare of one’s nation.

There is no room for abortion, at any time, under any circumstances. Further, there is no room for infanticide (the killing of new born babies) or euthanasia (killing older people who have ‘nothing further to contribute to society’). And there is no room for trashing the planet. While we do not worship the planet or animals, we must manage them as vice-regents (‘vice’ means in place of, and ‘regents’ is from the Latin rex, meaning king). A good manager does not waste his resources. He governs them prudently, preserving them and multiplying them where possible. Are you responding properly to these issues?

Second, I mention several positives. Your life is to be marked by the worship of almighty God. The simple fact is, due to your being made in God’s image, as there is divine satisfaction between the three persons of the Godhead, so you are to give to God your praise, telling him of his glory and your satisfaction with him. Though fallen, you are a worshipper. The question is – what do you worship? Personal, familial, and corporate worship with the larger body of Christ ought to mark your life. What or whom are you worshipping?

The Imago Dei also means you are in community. Just as the Trinity is itself a perfect communion, so you too are in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You also are in community with the world around you, whether Christian or not. You are not an island. You are not to live unto yourself. Your life affects others. You are to put your brother’s needs ahead of your own. You are to consider others as more important than yourself (to borrow words from the Apostle Paul).

You also are to take seriously your place in your family. God tells man to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth. What else can this mean than having lots of babies! How many? I don’t know. That’s between you, your spouse, and God; but surely at the very least it means to refrain from selfishness, to put away your desire for a peaceful and quiet life where you are free to travel where you wish, do what you wish, at any time. We know that for any culture to survive each couple must produce 2.1 children. France and Germany are now at 1.5 children while Muslim immigrants to these countries produce 8.1 children per couple. The unnerving and irreversible fact is that both countries will be predominantly Muslim within fifty years. The United States is barely at the 2.1 children per family number.

Fathers – I also have in mind your responsibility to love and lead your wives and children. You are to rear your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You are to teach the doctrines of our holy religion. You are to pray for them and with them.

Finally, when God tells man that he is to subdue and rule over the earth He means two similar things. To subdue means to knead, like kneading dough. It has the idea of cultivating and manipulating creation (I don’t mean this in the common pejorative sense) for the good of mankind. To develop hybrid plants, to engage in animal husbandry, to draw oil from the ground for energy are all examples of subduing the earth. To rule over, to have dominion over everything has the connotation of controlling and harnessing. We make dams to control rivers in order to make hydro-electric power. We split the atom so that we can make nuclear energy. We catch the wind and generate electricity through windmills, and we do the same with solar panels. Scientists use mould from which penicillin is made.

So, this whole idea of subduing and ruling speaks to the concept of work. Work is not a result of the fall into sin. Work existed at the sixth day of creation. Your work, assuming it is lawful, is a blessing that God has given you for the sake of others. You are given, as it were, a small piece of land, and your job is to work that piece of land. Some are given larger plots and thus greater responsibility and will thus be accountable for more. All work is sacred before God. There is no sacred/secular dichotomy. Honest work builds God’s kingdom. Whether as a teacher, physician, attorney, businessman, or plumber, your job is to do your work for God’s glory.

Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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