Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What does it mean when it says we are created in the image of God?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Genesis 1:27

The image of God in man? Not likely when we look at the degradation and filth of history. And yet, there is something within man that continuously seems to tell us that we are doing something wrong. Even then we cannot seem to get it right. For instance, education, my field, was in a state of reform for my entire career, and never have the reformers seemed to get it right. There is always more to aim for, and our consciences tell us that. Generations of Americans have grown up with “reformed” education, and it has seemingly always fallen short of our lofty goals.

We famously endorsed a sixties president’s war on poverty, and fifty years later we still have the poor. We thought that electing a black president would finally end racial discrimination, only to find that the racial barriers have seemed to sharpen. Everything we do to make it better seems so often to only make it worse—and the worse does upset us. We can see that wrongs are not made right and it bothers our consciences a great deal. We may come at solutions from entirely different perspectives, but when the day is done we see the same problems that we started with stretching out over the endless horizon.

Perhaps our consciences are part of what is the image of God. We still have a voice inside us that tells us what right and wrong are. And, if I am any judge of mankind, this phenomenon seems to be universal—that is, it seems to be inside everyone. No matter that some seem to try to squash their conscience all their lives—it is there to begin with, and the failure of man to hone it properly is not a sign that it was not there. The very fact that we seem to notice so particularly those whose conscience is damaged seems to be a further proof of what is meant to be inside us. We do indeed take note of those who seem to be missing their conscience, realizing that something is radically wrong with such a person, though we may have trouble expressing exactly what it is.

It is of course the conscience that is the entryway to belief. God convicts us, the scripture says, and the result is that we believe. I would think that thus the conscience is certainly a part of what God made in us as a picture of himself and in his image, however indistinct that image may be. It is altogether fitting that He would use the conscience as the very vehicle to bring us to himself, correcting all shortcomings of that conscience by the work of his Spirit. He uses that which he created in us to help us find both him and ourselves once more. The idea of looking in the mirror, and seeing something different, something altogether new, but still recognizing ourselves, as the way he intended us to be, is very much the process of being born-again, and it is impossible for that to happen unless it happens in the conscience.

There is another way that I think we are created in the image of God. Dorothy Sayers long ago, in her book,The Mind of the Maker, points out the creative work of the author, or of the playwright, as being an emulation of what God does when he creates. As a would-be writer, I can attest to the feeling of being a creator, and I have wondered if I was not “imitating” the Creator in my actions. In starting my reading of Sayers’ work, I thought that she was neglecting all the other creative acts of men that might be thought of as imitations of the Creator, but she did not. There is a sense in which common man in his daily work tasks manages to “stamp” his acts with his own creativity.

I remember when I was about 16 and working in my uncle’s orchard, my dad stopped by. I was irrigating, or flooding the orchard with water, and having done it since I was 12, I felt very confident about doing my job. I knew the farm well, and understood the bumps and the hills I had to go around. But my dad taught me a whole new level to using my shovel that day. He taught me about natural contouring, and dipping my knee under the shovel, and just doing a whole lot better job of irrigating. Before the end of the day I was tired, but I had moved about three times the earth that I usually did using that simple shovel. I came to understand shoveling in a whole new light. Some forty odd years later I still remember Dad teaching me something simple, and yet it was obvious that he had put much of his creative energy into learning and doing. I suspect that story is all too common as we get shoulder to shoulder with men who are highly accomplished at tasks that we ourselves have never taken the time to fully understand.

I am reminded of the quote attributed to George Washington Carver who when asked how he found so many uses (over 200) for the peanut replied that he had prayed for God to help him understand the peanut. It is remarkable how much we can show the image of God in the simplest tasks, and especially when we give them over to Him.

I was going to include the naming of things and animals as part of God’s creation, but I find upon reading Genesis through again that I cannot properly do that, at least from Genesis. God created everything, and then created man. Scripture says that God brought each of the animals before man, and let him name them. In Genesis we find no evidence of God naming things, and thus it might be concluded that this is something God created man for. Except for Psalm 147, which makes it clear that God has taken the time to name every star. Perhaps naming things is part of the image of God. I do know that men seem to take great satisfaction in naming things, and even my three-year-old grandson delighted in bestowing the name “Lemon” upon our new yellow cat.

And further, God will one day give to each of us a white stone, with our special name on it to signify how specially our God knows and loves us. His very creative person—his love for each of us—his understanding that each of us is different, and thus his love for each of us is different—all of these things show us a God who delights in the special naming of things. Perhaps it is not so odd after all, that we might think we resemble God in the power of naming.

I sometimes (often even) want to denigrate myself before God, devaluing myself, and I think part of that may come from my desire to be humble. But it is not true humility, for I am reminded that God has indeed placed a valuation upon man that is higher than any could be. For he has paid for our sins, coming in human form to do what we absolutely could not do, justifying us, dying in our place, and receiving the due penalty for our sins. What price could he have paid that would be higher than the sacrifice of himself?

The doctrine of depravity I sometimes think is overused in this respect. Paul teaches us that we were undeserving of any redemption; instead redemption was offered freely from God, and that while we were yet sinners. Thus we are totally depraved, yet that should be balanced with the understanding that God valued us enough to love us. I am not speaking of what we deserve here, for the Bible is plain, we deserved judgment and death. Rather, what I am trying to do is understand the motive of God in continuing to love us. We are made in his image and he must have found us lovable in spite of our terrible marring with sin. I am not saying that we deserved his love—rather we got his love, and in the mysteries of God, he still saw something in us which he so highly valued and freely chose to love.

Lewis says it this way, “Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?”1 When I think of heaven and being with Christ, my whole body aches with the desire that it should be so, and all the more as I age. In my many idle speculations of heaven, time and again I come to my senses and say, “No, it is not like that after all.” One of the many idle speculations that I have come to realize is not true is found in my thinking of the large place that heaven is going to be. It is going to include all sorts of people who I might be surprised at seeing, and with the multitudes and all, I speculated wrongly that I would be small and not much noticed. But that is not the way of it at all. God will know me—he will have a special name for me, preciously denoting all that I am before him, and he will so love me specially. There is an error made in my reasoning that shows how little I understand what being infinite is all about—he will be able to do this with everyone in heaven, at the same time showing delight in man individually and corporately. I will not be lost in the masses—rather I will be cherished as a special son—no matter that God is able to do that with all. I have a lot to look forward to. So do we all.

1. Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). The Problem of Pain (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 154). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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