I learned this week that lots of people have lots of different ideas about what being created “in His image” might mean. Some of the information was very interesting…not all believable though.
One website called “bethinking.org” turned out to be especially helpful. An article called “What is the Image of God?” had some excellent things to say. Another author that my son pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago also has a really awesome way of discussing the beginnings of man. That is G.K. Chesterton, a Roman Catholic who wrote in the early 1900’s. We’ve been listening to his book, The Everlasting Man, and have been enjoying his way of expressing some very complex ideas in very simple ways…as well as being pretty funny at the same time.
Anyway, the first thing both of these gentlemen stated is that no matter what else we might believe about the Image of God, it is something unique to men and women. No matter how genetically similar we are to chimpanzees, spiritually we are galaxies apart.
Dr. May names six characteristics that are distinct in the human race pointing to the imprint of God on our minds, hearts and spirits.
The first characteristic is creativity. That is as opposed to operating on instinct. Both May and Chesterton name this one element as perhaps the most striking difference between men (and women) and animals. Although both birds and humans sing beautifully, a bird has never composed any psalm or sonata. A bird builds his nest every year, but he has never thought to add a second floor or a picture window. We reflect the image of a creative God who can create something from nothing. Hallelujah!
Second, May names intelligence as the next peculiar characteristic. Humans have the ability to understand and have rational thought. There is nothing even remotely similar among the animals. A dog or a horse can be trained to perform certain duties, but they don’t understand why they’re doing that thing. They don’t contemplate the nature of their existence or the effects/consequences of their behavior beyond reward of punishment. The Mind that keeps the planets from colliding in space has placed a tiny spark of that same intelligence in each of us. And secular researchers cannot even begin to explain where that intelligence comes from.
Third—aesthetics. The God who loves beauty filled his creation with it and then gave us the ability to appreciate what He had done. No once has any creature besides a human being paid any attention at all to a breath-taking sunset. Dr. May tells a story about a place he visits on the Isle of Wight. He enjoys watching those who visit for the first time. “They come round the path and stop. The look out over Christchurch Bay…They take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow’ and then stand there in silence. They often bring dogs. The dogs never do this.” Dr. May says. The dogs run around, sniff and do dog types of things…but they don’t experience to awe of seeing a beautiful sight.
Morality is another area that we both differ from the animals and reflect a tiny bit of our creator. Humans have consciences. And even though more and more folks seem to be ignoring theirs, we do know right from wrong and are capable of feeling guilty when we make a bad choice. Animals don’t experience guilt, only fear of punishment.
Dr. May names the importance of relationships as a reflection of our God. We all have the need to be part of some sort of society. That may be different for different people to some degree, but even at creation, God made sure that Adam was not all by himself. He gave him someone to look out for and who could look out for him. The Bible tells us over and over that Love for the people around us is one of the highest goals we can attain. We can’t accomplish what we need to do for Jesus without relationships with other people.
The last characteristic in which we reflect the Image of God is in our need to be spiritual. Every single society, race, nationality has had some kind of religion. Even when governments have made “religion” illegal, people have found ways to fill the void. Either continuing to worship in secret or to accept the religion of the state. Even now, in a society that often claims to have no need for gods or religions, people are filling that need with astrology, new age beliefs, and other forms of spirituality. No animal has ever worshipped any other being or idea. That is completely unique to humans.
Another element important about being created in the image of God is the aspect of male and female being equal parts of the whole image. That element seems to cause another area of disagreement among different theological beliefs. Jewish scholars believe that Adam was actually an androgynous being, containing both male and female, that God only separated as an after thought. Hmm. I’m not sure I agree with that. It seems pretty far-fetched. Keep in mind that Jewish scholars also believe that Eve was Adam’s second wife. Again, hmmm.
Anyway, it’s pretty clear that God intended that Adam and Eve represent the various, and sometimes opposing elements of His image. Looking at the traditional characteristics of masculinity: assertiveness, paternal instincts, taking charge, outgoing towards the world, provides outside support and protection, logic. And the traditional characteristics of femininity: maternal instincts, responder, relationship oriented, intuitive, perceptive, receptive, nurturing, sheltering.
Based on these lists of traits, God is the most fully masculine Being who has ever existed—He is also the most fully feminine Being who has ever existed. Not manly or girly, but masculine and feminine, there’s a huge difference. What a miracle!
Unfortunately, Satan has taken those perfect characteristics that God placed in each of us and has bent and twisted them into his likeness.
We know what happens when we allow those broken traits to rule us; all we have to do is look around or watch the news. Men struggle with being domineering, ruthless, rigid, cold, indifferent, intimidating, unforgiving, impersonal, unapproachable, boring and unimaginative. Women struggle with being possessive, controlling, manipulative, contriving, irrational, controlled by emotions, over-concerned with appearances or prestige, and attention demanding.
Not very nice lists are they – almost hopeless, except for one thing. God has given us a way back to His image instead of Satan’s. He gave us Jesus, the perfect image of Himself.
“When Adam came from the Creator's hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker. . . .
“Through sin the divine likeness was marred, and well-nigh obliterated. Man's physical powers were weakened, his mental capacity was lessened, his spiritual vision dimmed. He had become subject to death. Yet the race was not left without hope. By infinite love and mercy the plan of salvation had been devised, and a life of probation was granted. To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized--this was to be the great work of redemption. Though the moral image of God was almost obliterated by the sin of Adam, through the merits and power of Jesus it may be renewed. Man may stand with the moral image of God in his character; for Jesus will give it to him.” E.G.White,God’s Amazing Grace, p.246.
“…seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Bar-barian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:9-11