Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Made In The Image of God

June 15, 2014

 

Psalm 8, Matthew 28:16-20, and Genesis 1:1-2 and 26-31

The story of creation in Genesis tells us how God created the heavens and the earth, and how he filled them with living creatures, “each after its own kind.” The story repeats along that formula until you come to the final day of creation, when God creates human beings. Here, there are some significant differences.

One is that creation becomes personal. God no longer declares “let there be” but he says, “Let us make human beings in our own image.”

Now many people have wondered if this is the first evidence in the Bible for the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one Godhead. And since today is Trinity Sunday, you can bet we’re going to talk about that. Now it doesn’t have to be evidence of the Trinity. There are at least two other good explanations for God speaking in the plural here. But if you want my opinion, yes, this is evidence of the Trinity. A God who is plural, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in his unity creates a human race that is plural, male and female, in its unity. God’s unity is that he is One. Our unity is that both male and female are made in the image of God, what Bible scholars often refer to as the imago Dei, from the Latin for image of God.

As an aside, this certainly has something to say about relationships between the sexes. Both male and female are made in God’s image. So female human beings are just as sacred as male. Sexism has no place in the life of the Church. And the relationships between male and female, marriage and sexual intimacy, are to be treated as sacred as well.

What we find in the Bible is a story of human creation that is very different from others that existed in the ancient Near East world. The biblical story of creation says that God created human beings personally and carefully and thoughtfully. It is a dignified act of creation.

By contrast, most other ancient Near East creation stories say that human beings were created as slaves to the gods. The gods were lazy. They didn’t want to work for their food. So they made human beings to serve them. Not a lot of dignity there.

The Genesis story is very different. We are created in the image of God. Now what does that mean? That’s a question that many have wondered about. And I don’t presume to have all the answers. But I think I can help with some of them.

In ancient Near East culture, an image carried the essence of the thing it represented. The word image was most often used for idols. It was believed that the pagan gods operated in this world through their idols.

So the question is: What part of the essence of God is found in humanity?

For starters, God is creative. And so we are creative. We create art, music, science, mathematics, tools, and so on.

We also have the capacity for relationships. God is a relational God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternal relationship. So we are relational beings. We have relationship with God and with each other.

We have conscience and discernment. We have a sense of right and wrong. We do not simply operate based on instinct.

We are self-aware. We know that we exist. We think about ourselves and our place in the universe

We have dominion over creation. Now this is one that a lot of people focus on. We have authority over this world. And that’s certainly true and part of the idea. We are intended by God to be his vassals, his representatives within creation. We are to keep order in creation and to maintain a beneficent relationship with all creation.

In the ancient Near East world, kings would place a statue, an image, of themselves in distant parts of their kingdom to assert their authority in that place. We still do that. Human leaders still place their image in various places. Or at least those who think a lot of themselves do that. Look at photos from North Korea, and you’re sure to see Kim Jong Un’s picture everywhere. When I was a teenager, I traveled to Zimbabwe, and you could hardly walk into a building without seeing Robert Mugabe’s image on the wall.

So being made in God’s image means that we are to represent God within creation, to rule over it on his behalf, to care for it in his place.

But there’s more to the image of God. Genesis also tells us that we are made in the likeness of God. The word likeness means “after the nature.” Being made in God’s image means that we have knowledge of God. We are able to respond to God. And we can be like God.

Now obviously, we cannot reflect the nature of God. We are not omnipotent. We are not all-knowing. We can only be in one place at one time. But we can reflect the character of God. We can reflect his character: Good, loving, kingly, just, holy, merciful, and so on.

At the beginning of the service, we recited Psalm 8, which also has a lot to say about human dignity. Psalm 8 tells us that God is so great that he made the heavens with his fingers. Compared to the heavens, what are we? Do we matter for anything compared to the vastness of the heavens? If you’re like me, and you marvel to stand under a night sky and contemplate the vastness of the universe, then maybe you’ve wondered: Who am I?

Some people might say we are insignificant. Our lives are meaningless.

But God does not agree with that assessment. God says we are crowned with glory and honor because we bear the image of God. We have a derived glory. Our glory, our dignity, comes from who we are in relationship to God. Everything finds its meaning and purpose in God.

But of course there’s more to the story. You see, we have all sinned. We have all turned away from God. What has become of the image of God because we have turned away from God? Theologians sometimes say that the image has been effaced, that is damaged, but not erased. It’s still there. We’re still made in God’s image, but it’s not what it should be.

We are still creative, but now we use our creativity for evil purposes. We still have relationships, but often we have broken relationships. We still have a conscience, but often our conscience doesn’t really work like it should. Or we just ignore it. We still have knowledge of God, but it’s corrupted knowledge. We are still self-aware, but often our self-awareness becomes pride. Rather than being like God, we pretend to make ourselves gods. And we still have dominion over creation, but instead of caring for the world, we abuse it and destroy it for our own selfish gain.

God’s answer to this crisis was to send Jesus Christ to us, Jesus who bears the true image of God. Hebrews chapter one describes Jesus by saying, “In these final days, God has spoken to us through his Son… The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly.”

Psalm 8 also speaks about Christ when it talks about the son of man, which was Jesus’ description of himself. Psalm 8 is about all human beings, but its message is perfected in Jesus Christ, who alone represents a perfect image of God.

The image of God cannot be restored in us unless we know what the image of God is. And Jesus alone can show us what God is truly like. And then he can restore the image of God in us, both in terms of knowledge of God and character like God. Those two things go together. 2nd Peter chapter one says, “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life… He has promised that you will escape the decadence around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature.” Knowledge and character are inseparable. We can’t imitate Christ if we don’t know Christ. And if we know Christ, then we ought to imitate Christ!

In Christ, God is starting the human race over again. Not physically. God tried that before in a man named Noah. It didn’t work out too well. But God is starting the human race over spiritually. As we are united to Christ and as we come to know Christ, we are conformed to the character and likeness of Christ and once again crowned with glory as God intended us to be.

And one day, the physical restoration will also happen. That’s what the resurrection and new creation are: A physical restoration to God’s original intention for human beings and for the world. The ultimate goal of salvation is the restoration of all creation.

One of the fads we see on television now is the “restoration fad.” We have shows like American Pickers and American Restoration and Rehab Addict that depict people trying to restore old things to their former glory.

It’s nothing new. God has been in that business for 2000 years. And God invites us to “join him in the family business.” The Great Commission is an invitation for us to become part of God’s work of restoration through all the earth. When we share the Gospel, we are sharing a message that God can restore us. He can heal our broken relationships. He can heal our corrupted character. He can heal our hurt and brokenness. He can restore our consciences. He can restore our knowledge of Him. And he can help us to be like him.

He can help us to be what we were meant to be.

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