January 7, 2013

Identity: Imago Dei part 1

A few years ago I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin. It is a great book, and offers a lot of insight into a man who was so foundational to our country’s constitution and beginnings. He was a writer, publisher, politician, inventor, scientist..you name, Franklin did it!

One of the things I found interesting is that he practiced good PR before anyone else even knew what it was. He knew that sometimes it is not so much that you actually ARE what people think you are...it is only important what they THINK you are. He knew what image he wanted others to have of him, and worked hard to make it a reality...and at the least to make it a reality in their mind. Isaacson writes "Franklin was America's first great imagemaker. Even after he became successful, he made a display of personally carting the rolls of paper he bought in a wheelbarrow down the street to his shop rather than having a hired hand do it."

It worked marvelously. A fellow merchant said of Franklin: "The industry of that Franklin is superior to anything I ever saw of the kind; I see him still at work when I go home from club, and he is at work again before his neighbors are out of bed.'" He worked hard  and he worked hard to make people think he worked hard. He was creating an image of himself in people’s minds.

In economic theory this is called Signaling Theory. Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics at George Mason University, says, “Signaling theory is another way of talking about showing off. Or trying to present your best face. It’s all about what we do to look good. Or at least to not look bad. So more generally, signaling is about managing your image; it’s about keeping in mind that other people are watching you and interpreting you...If you don’t realize that people are trying to manage their image, you miss out on a lot of what’s going on.”1

We are all trying to manage an image. We may call it fake or hypocritical, but we all do it at some time.

It shows itself when we say things like:
What will the neighbors think?
You are not going out looking like that!
I wouldn’t be caught dead in that!

We get good at managing our image.

We do it in church too. We avoid the Bible study because we are afraid people will discover that we don’t read or know our Bibles all that well. We refuse to pray aloud because I don’t have the right words...in others words I don’t want to sound foolish in front of you. We often act like we have everything together because that is what church people do...even though our life is falling apart. We hide sin from those closest to us because we don’t want them to know the real us.

We manage our image here too.

But as most of us know...that image is a false one. It never satisfies. It is never really true or authentic. And it always leaves us empty because there is always a new image we must chase after.

We are starting a new series called Identity. We are asking ourselves what does it mean to gain our identity, our worth, or direction, and purpose from God. Today’s message is foundational because as followers of Christ we are meant for so much more than simply chasing after the expected images others hold of us or the image we want them to hold of us. We are called and expected to live out the image of God.

Genesis 1:26-27 is passage for this morning, and it is a foundational verse for the Christian faith. In the epic poem of Genesis 1:1-2:3, God speaks all of creation into existence, and on this final day of His work, it says, “Then God said, “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.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
 in the image of God he created them;
 male and female he created them.”

After creating everything else...God creates humans. They are the pinnacle of His creative work, an extension of His love and the recipients of His relationship. And apart from all of creation, human beings are the only thing created by God about which he says they are made in His image.

There has been a lot of discussion about what it means to be made in the Image of God. Some look at what separates us from the animals. Intellect and reason, moral reasoning, authority and dominion, spiritual awareness, relationship, love...but one of the things these verses make abundantly clear is...

All people have intrinsic value and dignity. 
Because we are made in the Image of God...above all the other creatures of our world...we have value. We have worth. God declares that every person has value simply because he or she has been fashioned in his image. Human life is sacred.

This was a revolutionary concept for the ancient world. In the ancient world infants, the elderly, and especially women were seen as useless to society, so their lives were seen as expendable. In the Spartan society, glorified by the movie 300, when a woman gave birth soldiers came to evaluate the baby. If the child was considered weak it was either left on hillside to die or shipped off to become a slave.

Cultures have always struggled with the role of women; many considering them invaluable. India and Morocco have recently made the news two rape victims were forced to marry their rapists. One committed suicide. One young girl was recently shot in Afghanistan because she dared to speak out in favor of girls receiving an education. At the heart of this is a culture that does not believe that everyone has intrinsic value and worth.

Our culture has certainly made strides, but we are not out of the woods. We place a huge amount of value on how much we produce or contribute. If you are not “contributing” to society...you are considered worthless, useless, and forgotten.

Think of who might be on that list of people who aren’t “contributing” to society:

  • The disabled.
  • The poor.
  • The homeless.
  • The sick.
  • The unborn.
  • The criminal and condemned.
  • Teenagers
  • The elderly.

Now think about the response people have toward them...

  • Get a job you worthless bum...
  • They suck our system dry with their sense of entitlement...
  • He has been on life support for so long...
  • The fetus will complicate my life...
  • The mentally disabled cannot have a fulfilled life...

Did you know that suicide rates are highest among teenagers and the elderly? And elderly males are at the great risk of all age and gender ranges. One sociologist suggested this is due the value being placed on our contribution in a consumeristic society. They sense that their lack of contribution, their inability to make a difference means they have no value.

I have even jokingly said to Brianna that she should get a job so she can contribute to the family. While she knows it is a joke, I find myself inside a culture that values people primarily for what they contribute rather than who they are intrinsically.

The Bible makes the bold assertion that we are valuable not because of what we produce. Not because we are useful. We are valuable because we have been created by God; in His image. Being made in the image of God means that we are valued for being and not for our doing.

You see...

All people reflect God.
There is an “irreducible glory and significance” inherent in each person, regardless of who they are or what they have done. The Image of God has been distorted by the Fall in Genesis 3, and by our own persistent sinfulness...but it is not lost. Our sin can not remove it. Our pain cannot remove it. Our value to a culture can not remove it. Our crimes... Our diseases... Our mental or physical capabilities... Nothing can take that image of God completely from a person.

That is why, for centuries, Christians have built hospitals to care for the sick. They have have built orphanages and adoption agencies to help orphaned and “unwanted” children.” They have cared for and defended the imprisoned. They have educated, housed, and cared for the poor, the broken, the unwanted, and the elderly. They have helped the physically and mentally disabled. Christians have been at the forefront of civil liberties and the protection of those whom society has rejected and abused.

People representing the church have not always offered the best example of this. Using God’s name they have reflected the anger and abuse of the culture. Even today, in the name of God, many feel it okay to abuse and hurt others. But the essence of the Biblical message is recognizing that value of people who reflect the Image of God.

Because they recognize everyone has value, and everyone reflects the image of God.

This is at the heart of our ethic as Christians.

Because the incredible worth of each human demands respect and reverence in the way we treat each other.

The prohibition of murder is based on the idea that we are made in the Image of God. In Genesis 9:5-6, God speaks to Noah after the flood and says, “From each human being...I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed;
 for in the image of God
 has God made mankind.”

We are made in the Image of God, and when we murder someone we destroy that Image.

The New Testament extends this based on Jesus teaching which equates our anger with murder. James 3:9, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”

You see how we treat others, how we speak about others...all who are made in the Image of God...says a lot about how we treat God.

This is the basis of Matthew 22:37-40 where it says, ““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There are two things I want really want you to get out of today’s message based on the simple but profound idea that we are made in the Image of God:

You are profoundly valuable to God. No matter what you have done in your past. No matter how useful you feel. No matter how wanted by others you do or do not feel...You are valuable to God. You have been made in His image. You can sing or shout with Psalmist, “I praise you God because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Those around you are profoundly valuable to God. As followers of Christ this should affect the way we treat others and speak about them. It affects our ability to forgive them. Because no matter how vile, evil, sinful, worthless, non-contributing a person we think they are...they are someone who has the Image of God stamped upon their life. They are someone for whom Christ has died. They are someone who, though imperceptible to us, God is still wooing and calling and working through His grace.

The Image has been marred by sin in all our lives, but it is not gone. Next week we are going to talk about what God does to restore that Image to its fullness through Jesus Christ. But for this morning...know that you and those around you are made in the Image of God...and this should affect our view of ourselves and affect our view of those around us.

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