Men and Women Created in God’s Image

Title: Men and Women Created in God’s Image

Text: Genesis 1:26-27

Time: May 7th, 2010

Some of the most important lessons from the Book of Genesis, we take for granted as simply “self-evident.” For example, The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Now when Thomas Jefferson wrote these words, which were approved by the Founding Fathers, mention of the Creator and the concept of equality could be traced directly to the Bible. But today, while we still hold to the concept that all men and women are equal, the link to the Creator and the concept of created by God is slowly fading. But that raises the question, “Without a foundation for human equality grounded in the Genesis creation account, without an acknowledgment of a Creator who created all men and women equal, how long can the concept of unalienable rights hold up?” It’s an important question. Today, men and women seem to feel that we can have human rights without any transcendent moral values, or any grounding from a Higher Power to guarantee them. But even Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Father didn’t try to claim human rights without also appealing to the Creator and Supreme Law Giver – God. It isn’t stated directly, but everyone knew then and everyone knows now (everyone who thinks about it long enough), that the source of Jefferson’s “unalienable rights” is found in the creation account in Genesis 1 where God the Creator creates men and women in his own image and likeness. But in our secular society today all we hear about is raw “human rights” or “equality” without any moral or ethical foundations. We seem to take it for granted that “rights” and “laws” just come out of thin air. We don’t stop to realize that we are living largely on the moral and spiritual capital of the past. If we don’t renew and revive that spiritual and moral capital, if we don’t rebuild the ethical foundation that once was the general consensus in the United States, our precious rights will be swept away in a flood of moral relativism. Just as in the days of Noah before the flood, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was evil all the time,” Genesis 6:5.  There needs to be a renewal of appreciation for the Bible’s teaching that all mankind is made in the image of God. Here is the foundational passage that has so shaped the progress of human rights throughout the world: “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,” Genesis 1:26-27. I’d like to point out a few profound implications for being made in the image of God. But first let’s try to better understand what the “image of God” or imago dei means.

First, mankind is made in God’s image, but what does this mean? Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness. . . .” Some cult groups, some pseudo-Christian sects such as the Mormons have actually tried to claim that man made in the “image of God” literally means that God has a physical body and now exists somewhere as a “big man” of flesh and blood. We are made in his image and likeness because we are literally made of a body with flesh and blood like God has, and so, we are literally made in his image and likeness. But outside of this fringe group hardly anybody actually believes that the image of God is the literal, physical image of God, or that we resemble God because he exists as a material “big man.” No, the imago dei is not a wooden literal concept but rather a profound intellectual, moral and spiritual idea. Christian and Jewish theologians have understand the phrase “image of God,” or in the original Hebrew tzelem elohim as meaning primarily intellectual and moral capacities. We also share with the Creator the capacity of self-awareness or self-consciousness – we are able to distance ourselves from the created world and rise above our material existence to not only observe the external world but also to observe the internal world of ourselves as well. But while theologians have sketched out the most basic meaning of the concept of man made in the image of God, of course, they haven’t figured it all out. There is still a great mystery in the phrase, “men and women made in the image of God.” But we can make parallels between the Creator and ourselves, as we learn more about God and as we learn more about ourselves. For example, God was the original user of language and words, but we also share the capacity to communicate in complex ways through symbols and words. Animals can certainly communicate in simple ways, but not in the complex patterns as God and man. Another profound thing we share with God because we are made in his image is artistic expression. God is the ultimate Artist, as the creation account testifies. It describes God creating and then stepping back from his work, in much the same way we can visualize an artist at work, and being pleased with himself and the results – “And God saw that it was good.” Humans have the capacity too on a much smaller scale. But no doubt the most important way we express our divine origins is morally and spiritually. We can judge the difference between right and wrong, true and false. In fact, God holds us accountable for doing so. Thus, we are given great capacities by God, god-like capacities, but we are also held responsible for the use of our capabilities. So the imago dei or image of God isn’t referring to any crass physical form, but it’s certainly referring to the personality, intellectual, moral and spiritual characteristics we share with our Creator. But let’s break down what this means today.

Second, the image of God guarantees the equality of men and women. Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It may seem like a small thing, not so important in the grand scheme of things, but this verse is profoundly important because it lays the groundwork for the equal treatment of men and women in society. Again, this is one of those “self-evident” truths that isn’t so self-evident the further we get away from the Bible and the creation account and God as Creator. Now the idea that men and women are both made in the image of God, that it isn’t just man made in God’s image – or woman alone made in God’s image, guarantees the equal dignity of both sexes. We shouldn’t assume that this arrangement simply happens in society apart from God’s special and divine revelation in the Bible; it doesn’t. For example, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution teaches that humans descended from lower animals such as monkeys and apes, but what isn’t so widely known is that Darwin went further. In Darwin’s second book, “The Descent of Man,” he basically argued that women are inferior to men based on his evolutionary theory. We don’t hear about this aspect of evolution because it isn’t so popular, in fact, it’s so disturbing that it’s kept quietly hidden away. But the truth is, once the Genesis creation account is questioned, either in theory or practice, then there really isn’t any factual basis for holding to the equality of the sexes. Now the Bible teaches that both men and women are equal in the sight of God because they are both made in his image; this guarantees a basic equal dignity and status. But the Bible also recognizes profound differences between men and women before God as far as their callings, roles and works. Another profound teaching of Genesis – which we don’t have time to develop further today, but one we’ll return to shortly — is that both men and women have their own respective works to do, their own special roles to fulfill; in this respect, there isn’t an equality of function or activity because men and women are called to do different things. But as far as the nature of men and women, they are equally made in God’s image and likeness. But the theory of evolution attempts to disrupt or destroy the created order in the Book of Genesis, including the imago dei teaching by arguing for an alternative explanation for the origins of men and women. Under the evolutionary explanation, there is no guarantee of essential equality of men and women because there is no Creator creating, no creation in God’s own image. Darwin worked out the implications to his own theory and came to the conclusion that women are essentially inferior to men because they hadn’t evolved fast enough. He never would have come to this conclusion reading the Bible or taking the creation account seriously. We need to wonder what will happen if society moves further in the direction of the theory of evolution; we can only guess how detrimental the effect will be on women without the biblical guarantee of equal dignity with men. Or maybe the reverse will occur and feminism will so profoundly prevail that men will be seen as the inferior, less evolved species. It’s hard to say. Without a Creator and creation account to safeguard human dignity, anything is possible.

Third, the image of God guarantees the equality of all races and classes of mankind. Genesis 1:26, “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.” We also forget that the biblical account of creation, especially the part where God makes all men and women in his own image, we forget that it also guarantees the essential dignity of all different races and classes of mankind. It guarantees humans rights for all ethnic groups and sub-groups of humanity on earth. If all men and women are created in God’s image, then that applies to all the different kinds of men and women on the planet earth. We, again, underestimate the profound truth this is teaching us. Imagine a religious teaching – it’s not hard to do so because there are actual religions that teach it – that only a certain race or class or ethnic group is created in the image of God. Only that group has divine qualities. In fact, we don’t have to go any further than ancient Egypt to find this teaching. In the religion of Egypt, the common people were not considered made in the image of the gods, but only the king or pharaoh. In Egypt, the pharaoh was considered a living god, made in the image of the gods. He was seen not just superior in his rank – the way the Supreme Court judges are more important than lower court judges, for example – but the pharaoh was understood as superior in his essential being. That is profoundly different from what Genesis 1 teaches, because in the Bible’s creation account God creates all men and women in his own divine image, not just leaders, not just important people, not even just his own chosen people the Jews. So we see very early in the Bible the idea of equal dignity for all people. Now contrast this basic foundational principle of human rights with the teachings of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Again, Darwin taught not only that women were inferior to men in the ongoing evolutionary process, but he also taught that different ethnic groups and races were inferior to the white European male. This all makes sense according to the theory of evolution. Again, this is something that is also kept quiet when Darwinism is taught – and we can see why, because it runs against the foundational teachings of our country’s core principle of equal dignity under God. But if we are all evolved from lesser, lower animals such as the ape and monkey, who’s to say that we are all evolved at the same level? Might there be some races or classes or ethnic groups that are behind and some that are ahead of one another? Where does one draw the line? We can see the dangerous implications of departing from the rock-solid creation account with men and women created in God’s image. It’s the only basis for human dignity and human rights.

Fourth, the image of God guarantees the superiority of humans over all other life on earth. Genesis 1:26, “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 earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” When I was a student at Wheaton College studying philosophy as an undergraduate, I was shocked to find that there are actually leading intellectuals in leading universities in the U.S. and in Europe who actually argue that there is no logical reason for favoring the human species over other species on the planet earth. To favor one life form over another is unfair and unjust, they ague. They call is “speciesism!” The issue actually comes up more and more in respect to abortion. These ethicists – an oxymoron if there ever was – argue that because there is no intrinsic superiority in human beings over other life forms, the human unborn should not be given special treatment or concern. One intellectual, Peter Singer at Princeton University, argues that a barnyard pig should have more “rights” under the law than an unborn baby because the pig is an actual, developed living being, while the unborn baby is only potentially developed – and since there is no essential special-ness or superiority of humans over other living things, the pig should be given priority. But this kind of nonsense makes perfect sense in a world without Genesis 1, the biblical creation account, and mankind made in God’s image. If we let go of the profoundly important teaching of the imago dei, if in it’s place we substitute some form of evolution, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we arrive at disturbing conclusions. Without a strong commitment to the description of creation in Genesis 1 what’s to stop society from making decisions of life and death on the basis of emotion? In a choice between saving a beloved family pet or a complete human stranger in an emergency situation, without a proper understanding and appreciation for the biblical distinction between humans made in the image of God and other living things on earth, whose to say a totally secular person saves the stranger because of his humanity? Why not save the pet instead of the stranger? From a personal, selfish standpoint saving the beloved pet might make the most sense, absent any belief in the essential uniqueness of humanity over animals. Is this the kind of scenario we’ll hear more and more about on the evening news as human dignity and the unique status of humanity is weakened through the teaching of evolution? I can’t help but think it is. Only the biblical teaching of Genesis 1 gives us a truly unique status on planet earth. Without it, we’re just one life form among many.

The profound impact of the Genesis creation account, particularly in respect to mankind made in God’s image can’t be overemphasized. Now, there is no question that Jews and Christians historically have failed to live up to its important teachings. Some Christians have spoken and acted as if the image of God was not present in certain races. For example, during the time of slavery in the South, there were Christians who failed to live out the truth of Genesis 1 because they failed to recognize the contradiction of one human being owning another human being as a slave. The situation of slavery was definitely not the result of Christians going to the Genesis 1 creation account, carefully exploring the teaching that all men and women are made in the image of God, and then carefully applying this teaching to their historical situation. No. What happened was the practice of slavery sadly came into existence for economical reasons, became established, then the biblical teaching was ignored, or in the worse case, distorted in order to justify the status quo. There is evidence, though, that even good men and women knew it was wrong to enslave other humans, yet nonetheless continued in the practice of owning slaves. A few of the Founding Father actually wrote about how wrong it was – all the while continuing to own slaves! This kind of moral schizophrenia is inexcusable but it just shows how sinful the human heart is, even as it knows what is right. Isn’t that similar to what the Apostle Paul wrestled with in 1 Corinthians 7:15, 18-19, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing!” The problem is that everyone is inconsistent, but we still need the foundation, the basis for right and wrong. Just because some Christians have failed to live up to the high standard of Jesus in his teaching “Love thy neighbor as you love thyself” doesn’t mean we can afford to do away with the standard. We need to recognize and appreciate how profound the teaching is about the imago dei in Genesis 1. We need to hold carefully to the literal interpretation of God’s creative act of both men and men in his own divine image. Upon it rests the whole foundation of human rights and human dignity in our Western Civilization. If we turn to the theory of evolution and work out its implications in respect to human dignity, we’ll be lost in moral and cultural relativism. There simply isn’t any other alternative but to follow the Genesis teachings, if not on principle then on practical grounds. The present Pope has argued that Europe should continue to operate under its basic Judeo-Christian moral and ethical framework, if not because of conviction, then out of practicality. There isn’t any other framework that can serve as the foundations for the human rights and dignities we’ve come to enjoy in the West. If we want to maintain our level of humanity – and even continue to improve it – then we need to hold to the doctrine of the imago dei. On that I agree.


One Response to “Men and Women Created in God’s Image”

  1. victor chemonges Says:

    i realy appreciate the information, the layout, the material and the organisation

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