In the Beginning. That’s where it all started and where God created all things. Now, I have no interest in dating when that creation may or may not have happened. Everybody has a theory.
For me, it’s enough to believe that God created everything. That this world as we know it was not an accident, and that every creature that has ever populated the world was placed here for a purpose, even if I don’t understand what that purpose might be.
I love the words of David as he prays to God in Psalm 139:13–16 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
This is the first week of our series “Who Am I?” And over the next few weeks, we will be looking at our identity. Our identity as a creation of God, our identity as a new creation of God, our identity as a part of God’s family
Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”
So, the first thing that pops out at us is this is the first time the creation process is done in consultation.
Listen to what happened earlier in the story of creation. Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And then we read in, Genesis 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And so it goes, God spoke the world into being, and He spoke, and the oceans were formed, and things began to grow, and He spoke, and the world was populated with creatures of all different kinds.
But then we hear the words, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” It does not say, God, said, “Let me make human beings in my image to be like me.”
There have been different thoughts here concerning the use of the plural.
It has been suggested by some that perhaps this was like the Royal we. According to Wikipedia, The royal we is commonly employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch or other type of sovereign.
But in most cases, it is not appreciated. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was mocked for her grandiose pronouncement, “We have become a grandmother.”
It was a term used by Rutherford B. Hayes when he was the US president, and in response, senator Roscoe Conkling stated, “Yes, I have noticed there are three classes of people who always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ They are emperors, editors and men with a tapeworm.”
Personally, I wonder, if this was the case, then why wasn’t the “royal we” used in the earlier statements of creation?
Others have speculated that perhaps God was speaking to the heavenly hosts, the angels, and seraphim when he made this statement. But this would imply the heavenly hosts would have had a hand in the creation process and that they had been created in God’s image. And there is nothing in the scriptures to support either of those.
The third option that has been suggested is that this is the first reference to the Trinity. And God the Father is addressing the rest of the Trinity.
And there is evidence that each part of the Godhead was a part of the creation process. At the very beginning of the Old Testament, we read these words, Genesis 1:2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. So, at the very beginning, we are introduced to the Holy Spirit.
And at the very beginning of the New Testament, we read these words, John 1:1–4 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
If we continue reading, we discover that John is introducing us to Jesus. Let’s pick up his account in verse 14, John 1:14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
And so, if we accept the reality that the Triune God was present at and through the creation process, then the use of the plural makes sense. The plural wasn’t used in reference to the other days of creation because they weren’t personal.
Here we see, the use of “we” and “us” and “our” indicating something about the creation of humanity that wasn’t evident in the rest of the creation process. Nothing else was made in the image of God. And so that has to say something about humanity.
And if you think that sounds speciesist, it is. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) defines the term, “Speciesism” as “The human-held belief that all other animal species are inferior.”
And if we believe that only humanity was created in the image of God, then that’s a reality. The scriptures are very plain, humanity was created at a different level than the other animals.
If we go back one step in the creation process, we read in Genesis 1:20–23 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.
Now, the scriptures say that God saw the creation of fish and animals and birds as good and that was something he said in each step of the creation process. But when he creates living creatures, he goes beyond simply acknowledging the act as good, and he adds his blessing.
And then he gives the living creatures a mission, a mandate. To be fruitful and multiple. But it does not say that they were created in God’s image.
Let’s continue in the passage that was read for us earlier, Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
And here is where we struggle, what does the image of God mean? Today when we think of our image, we think of our physical image. Sometimes to the point of obsession.
But that can’t be the reality here, because what would that mean? We all look different. The basics are there, but once you get beyond the number of our appendages things get very different.
And the image of God included both males and females. It doesn’t say that males were created in God’s image and females were an afterthought. Nor does it say that females were created in God’s image and not males. And we know that in the physical sense that males and females are not the same.
Now, I went down this path once when I was a young pastor in Truro, and it didn’t go well. I suggested as others have that rather than accepting that we were created in God’s image that we have worked hard to create God in our image.
And that certainly isn’t something I thought up myself.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, and he writes, “The truth is that all people, including Christians, have a strong tendency to “make God in our image” – to domesticate and reduce Him to human proportions.”
So, in this particular message that I was preaching on a Sunday evening in Truro, I ventured down this path about what the image of God was. And I said that it certainly wasn’t evidenced in the way that we have portrayed Jesus in our western art. With light brown hair and European features.
Sometimes I will see a nativity scene with a little blond hair, and blue-eyed Jesus and comment on the little baby Sven. But that is a different story.
So, that particular evening, I mentioned that Jesus was Jewish, so he was probably darker-skinned than most pictures show him. And that his hair was probably black and coarse and curly. That because people are shorter in the middle east, and were probably shorter still 2000 years ago, Jesus probably was only five foot seven or so.
I thought it went well.
The next morning my secretary told me that a couple who were long-time members had called to say that they were leaving the church because I said that Jesus was a little Jew. And they did.
That really wasn’t my intent, but it is what it is.
So, let’s go back to today’s message if we aren’t made in the physical image of God, where does that leave us?
Theologian Brian S. Rosner writes, “The Image of God is foundational to the biblical concept of humanness.”
In other words, we are only what we are because we are created in God’s image, and when we forget that or deny it then it opens up all kinds of societal doors. If in fact, we are the same as every other animal, it doesn’t mean that animals are raised to the level of humans, it means that humanity is reduced to the lowest factor in the animal kingdom.
So, if we haven’t been created in God’s image, then we can define for ourselves who and what we are.
And there are those who might say that is a good thing in this time where society has chosen to allow people to identify themselves. And you will hear people say, “I identify this way or that way.”
But if we can choose to not accept that we were created in God’s image, then it’s not a big step to decide that others weren’t created in God’s image.
It was the theologian and philosopher, Francis Schaeffer who wrote “If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today.”
And for thousands of years, that is what has allowed people to abuse and take advantage of other people. From slavery, and while many of us think slavery was something that happened in the deep south of the United States for a couple of hundred years, slavery has always been and is still a part of human history.
And slavery could only happen when people determined that other people weren’t created in God’s image.
The holocaust could only have happened because people decided that the Jewish people weren’t created in God’s image.
What is happening in Ukraine is because Russia has decided that Ukrainians aren’t created in God’s image. In the Middle East it would appear that the Jews don’t really believe that the Palestinians are created in the image of God, and the Palestinians don’t believe the Jews were created in the image of God.
And you don’t have to delve very far into comments posted on social media to see that the majority of people don’t treat others as if they were created in God’s image.
Timothy Keller writes, “Honour the image of God. Human beings are not accidents, but creations.”
Because if we truly believed that, then we would treat all people with respect. Regardless of gender, race or colour.
PBS (The Public Broadcasting Service) defines the image of God this way, “The term imago Dei refers most fundamentally to two things: first, God’s own self-actualization through humankind; and second, God’s care for humankind.”
Let’s go back to Subby Szterszky who wrote, “Being made in the image of God is not some abstract theological concept. It provides the basis for how we understand and approach every area of life. Our view of human nature, how we treat people and the environment, the value we place on human life and human culture, are all grounded in our understanding of Imago Dei.”
We could spend an entire series speaking about the various attributes of God and how they relate to His image, but that is fodder for a different series.
When I first started thinking about this message, I was drawn to Paul’s closing words of 2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And I thought that perhaps it is there we catch a glimpse of an image of the Trinity. The Grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and if that is a reality then perhaps that is the image that we were created in.
That humanity was created to reflect Jesus’ grace, God’s love and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship.
And yet as author Stephen King observed, “Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
So, what happened? It wasn’t very far into the story of humanity that we read about the first murder when Cain killed Abel in a fit of jealousy and anger. How does that line up with grace, love and fellowship with God?
The problem is that even though humanity was created in God’s image that image became distorted when humanity chose to rebel against God and his direction.
When the first couple were created and placed in the garden, they could do anything they wanted, except for one thing. They couldn’t eat the fruit from one tree. They could eat the fruit from any other tree in the garden, just not that tree. They could climb the tree, they could build a fort in the tree, and they could even cut the tree down and burn it and be rid of the temptation. They just couldn’t eat its fruit.
And that was the thing they chose to do. And with that rebellious action, the image became distorted.
If you are familiar with the creation account in the book of Genesis, then you know how Satan tempted the first couple to rebel against God. What he offered them was the chance to be like God. But they were already created in the image of God. They were already like God.
This was humanity’s first identity Crisis. Satan told them, Genesis 3:5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
They weren’t satisfied with what they had, they felt they needed more. Has that ever happened to you? If only you looked like so and so, or sang like that person, or had hair like the person over there.
And so, Satan offered them what they didn’t have, and what they didn’t need. They didn’t know both good and evil because they had never chosen evil. Until they did.
So, what happened when their innocence was lost? And understand, their innocence wasn’t taken from them, they gave it away.
It’s explained by theologian Wayne Grudem this way, “Since man has sinned, he is certainly not as fully like God as he was before. His moral purity has been lost and his sinful character certainly does not reflect God’s holiness. His intellect is corrupted by falsehood and misunderstanding; his speech no longer continually glorifies God; his relationships are often governed by selfishness rather than love, and so forth. Though man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted or lost.”
When I was in college I had a picture of my sister on my desk, and one evening a friend of mine sat on my desk and knocked the picture off and the glass broke.
Now being a good friend, I tried to tell Curtis it was all right. Actually, I told him it was the only picture I had of my sister who had died in a tragic accident. If you are wondering, I had lunch with my sister just two days ago.
Once Curtis felt really bad, I told him the truth, that my sister was alive and well and living in Slave Lake Alberta. The result of that fall was that the image of Dianne was still intact, but it was distorted because of the broken glass.
Because of humanity’s fall, the image of God has been distorted, but it’s still there. Under the shattered glass, you can still see it.
That’s why people, regardless of how bad they are, are still capable of showing love, and grace and long for fellowship with God.
For many of us, when we think of evil, we think of Adolf Hitler, and yet, Eduard Bloch, the doctor who treated Hitler’s mother when she was dying of cancer would later say, that Hitler’s most striking feature was his love for his mother. The image of God is still evident under the distortion of sin.
Again, reading the words of theologian, Wayne A. Grudem, “Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer.”
Grudem goes on to say, “This has profound implications for our conduct toward others. It means that people of every race deserve equal dignity and rights. It means that elderly people … and children yet unborn deserve full protection and honour as human beings.”
If we go back to my story of my sister’s photo, I took out the broken glass and replaced it with a new piece. With humanity, it’s not that simple, but it can be done.
Paul wrote to the early church in the city of Corinth reminding them of this very fact, 2 Corinthians 3:17–18 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
I’d like to end with a warning that we all need, and a word for the world today.
Novelist, Anne Lamott credits her Priest friend Tom with the statement, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
And it was Mother Teresa who reminded us, “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbour, do you think we would still need tanks and generals?”