September 29, 2008

In the Image of God

Biologically speaking humans and animals are not all that different. Humans have a large degree of similarity of DNA structures with chimpanzees. We are not that different biologically or anatomically. Evolutionary scientists see this as a “blow” against creationism, demonstrating the reality of our evolutionary connection to a simian ancestor. With this much similarity, they reason, we must have a common ancestor.

Genesis, however, does not attach our difference from the animal kingdom to our genetic structuring. In fact, Genesis 2:7 uses the same word (living being) to describe humans as it used to describe the animals. So our difference, our uniqueness in God’s eyes, must be based on something else.

Genesis 1:26-27 provides the answer…we are unique amid the animal kingdom because we alone have been created in the image and likeness of God!

To be made in the image and likeness of God means several things. First, we are created with a similarity or likeness to God. Genesis is very careful not to give a bodily form or description to God, but seems to indicate that humans are similar. Second, we share certain mental and spiritual characteristics with our creator. We are capable of thought, choice, a spiritual connection, personality, and intelligence. Spiritually we are capable of communicating and having a relationship with God. Third, we are given responsibility and rule over the earth. Just as God rules over the entire universe, we are to rule over the earth. This rule, unlike God’s, brings responsibility. We are answerable to God for our actions. Fourth, we are God’s representative on earth. Kings and conquerors often left statues of themselves (like the one of Lenin) and a royal ruler over a conquered area. We are God’s representative to the earth He created.

Based on the arrangement of the biblical text man and woman are put forward as the pinnacle of God’s creation. They are unique because they are created in the image of God. They are given intelligence, responsibility, and a personal connection with God.

Adam and Eve’s sin damaged this image. It severed the relationship between God and mankind, and corrupted the very nature that God had created “good.” While damaged by sin the image of God remains on each and every human being. The book of James reminds us that we are not to speak evil about our fellow human beings because each of us is made in the image of God.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Paisii tells Alexei Karamazov,

“Secular science, which has grown into a great force, has investigated, particularly during the past century, everything that has been handed down to us in the sacred books. That is something you must always remember, young man. After their thorough, merciless analysis, there was nothing sacred left in the hands of those secular scholars. That was because they analyzed only the parts and failed to study the whole, showing thereby a truly astonishing blindness. And the whole still stands today, firm and unassailable before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hasn’t it survived nineteen centuries and isn’t its existence apparent today in the spiritual emotions experienced equally by individual men and by masses of people? And in the hearts of the very atheists who are trying to destroy everything, that spiritual emotions lives on to this day. This is so because even those who renounce Christianity, even those who rebel against it—even they, in their essence, were created in the image of Christ and have remained in His image.”

No matter how sinful or far away from God we are or try to be…we have His image stamped upon our lives.

St. Augustine referred to a “God-shaped hole” inside of each man and woman that could only be filled by God. As long as we are separated from God we remain unfulfilled and incomplete; only God can fill that hole through the work of Jesus Christ. You might say that salvation and the Holy Spirit’s work of leading us deeper is a recapturing of those aspects of the image which have been lost. As you and I grow in grace the fullness of that image is restored in our lives. Our spiritual growth is a restoration process…God is restoring us to the fullness of His image.

To see the other posts in this series on Genesis go here and here.

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