One of the basic affirmations of the Bible, (although it isn’t mentioned all that frequently) is that humans are created in the image of God. In fact when referring to humans in general and not to Jesus Christ the term is only used once, in Genesis 1. It says:
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind£ in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,£ and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind£ in his image,
in the image of God he created them;£
male and female he created them.
Let’s start with the science. If we believe that humans descended from a series of proto humans, and before that from other life forms back to one celled organisms, as the evidence suggests, one has to ask just when did humans become the image of God. The short answer is, who knows? Nevertheless, I think the belief that humans are created in the image of God is a necessary belief. Let me explain.
I’m going to argue backwards, from ethics to theology to anthropology, not the best way to prove a point but I’m not trying to prove that humans are created in the image of God. I am asserting it as a matter of faith.
I think the assertion that humans are created in the image of God is a necessary, indeed vital faith statement. For too long, in fact throughout most of human history, humans have treated the other, the human that is different, as sub human. We certainly see this in the Nazi’s treatment of Jews, as well as Christian persecution of Jews throughout most of the past two millennia. We see this in the slavery of people from
I affirm that humans, all humans, are created in the image of God. That means that whenever we look at anyone, no matter how we feel about that particular person, no matter what that person may or may not have done, that person deserves respect. We should see that person as one who bears the image of God. That means we have to look past what we see and past our prejudices and see the image of God in that person. That means we have to love and honor that person. There can be no stereotyping. People individually and collectively must be treated with love and care. This means that the following are the very least that we must do:
- We shall not kill the image of God. I include in this both abortion and capital punishment.
- We must listen to the other, particularly if we disagree with the other.
- We cannot treat people as groups but must take people as individuals.
- We must be very, very careful when we think about going to war. Frankly I would rather be a pacifist, but see the need for national defense in a fallen world. But we rush too quickly to war, not thinking through the very real and agonizing questions that must be asked when we make the decision to go to war. The questions asked about just war by Augustine should be send us into a careful process, not a quick checklist. Here’s a question for you: was the American Revolution a just war? My opinion is, not by Augustine’s standards.
- When we do think of people as groups we must see the image of God in every person in the group.
- Prisoners are all created in the image of God. The American prison system ignores the image of God in prisons and dehumanizes them. Even when someone does something that is terribly wrong that person still images God, not by what they have done wrong but simply because they are human.
- Intelligence or the lack thereof does not have anything to do with being created in the image of God. People with Down’s Syndrome are created in the image of God.
Just what does it mean to be created in the image of God? I think there are two aspects that we find in the Genesis passage. To be created in the image of God is to be created for community. While we can see this in human behavior, (we need to get together), the Genesis passage points to our need for community by saying that God created us male and female. God made us the same but different from each other, thus saying that we need each other.
The other aspect is that of dominion or stewardship. God created us to care for creation. John you keep insisting on the need to take care of planet Earth before it is too late. I suggest that such care is part of the very essence of what it means to be created in the image of God. Just as God is creator, so we are those who are created to care for the parts of God creation that come under our influence. No, we don’t have responsibility for the sun, (at least not yet) but we do have responsibility for the ocean. We are over fishing and thereby bringing some species close to extinction. The plastic holders for six packs kill turtles and dolphins. The list goes on and on. We are not caring for God’s creation and we soon will pay the price.
Now the big question: when did humans receive the image of God? Was Australopihecus afarensis created in the image of God? My answer is, how should I know? I am certain that Homo sapiens are created in the image of God. Before that I don’t have a clue. The scientific record isn’t going to tell us and the Bible isn’t going to tell us for two reasons: the writers/editors of the Bible had no idea about pre Homo sapiens and the writers/editors of the Bible were writing for the people of their time, not to provide an anthropological study of human or any other species.
In other words I don’t think science can prove to us that humans are created in the image of God and I don’t think the Bible can tell us when humans were endowed with the image of God. And while the past interests me it is our present treatment of each other that I find most important. We can’t fix the past. We can change the way we treat each other now.
I affirm that God created humans in the image of God.
Grace and Peace