What do all these things have in common?
- The abortion of 200,000 babies in the UK each year, just over 1% for reasons of likely serious handicap.
- A Muslim debater challenges a Christian, “Can God also become a dog?”
- A philosopher who argues that a human being who cannot feel pain or joy is not a person.
- Higher road deaths in Africa than any other region of the world (WHO).
- Terrible industrial accidents caused by the negligence of authorities, workers and residents.
- Deaths caused by looting of petrol from overturned tanker which then explodes.
- Extreme environmentalism that sees humanity as a cancer on the planet.
- Treating one another as objects in service of our idolatries.
Underlying each of these is the suppression of a very important truth – that human life is immensely precious in that men and women are made in the image of God. It is not that we are God (as some sects would have us believe and as our sin pretends) but we are in the image of God. As Francis Schaeffer says:
I am as separated from God in the area of His being the Creator and infinite and I being the creature and finite, as is the atom or the energy particle [or the dog]… However, on the side of God’s personality, the break comes between man and the rest of creation… man’s relationship is upward (The God Who is There, pp. 94-95)
What is the image of God then? What is it that we have trampled and deformed? What is this personality that we are supposed to share (amazingly) with the Creator? I’ve always been a bit stuck on this one. From Genesis 1:27-28 we can infer that we are like God in exercising dominion, in being moral beings and in being plural, social beings. Is that all? Turn to Colossians 3:
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator… 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
So what is the image? Truthfulness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love. From the parallel passage in Ephesians we might add ‘working with your hands so that you have something to share with those in need’ (Eph. 4:28). Now try meditating on the Old Testament story and consider how God is all those things – truthful, compassionate, gentle, incredibly patient, even working with his mighty hands for the benefit of others – what a God we have! Even his dominion is a gentle, humble, loving, for-the-benefit-of-others dominion – servant leadership.
Which all makes us think of Jesus doesn’t it? The ‘Creator’ in Colossians is Christ (Col. 1:16). It is the image of the Lord Jesus into which we are being changed (2 Cor. 3:18). Before the world began it was God’s plan to conform us to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29) and one day we will be fully like him (1 John 3:2).
Athanasius spoke of how the Original Image came to restore us back to the image of God:
You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself (On the Incarnation)
Christ came into the world. United himself to our humanity. Walked to the Cross. Drew into himself all our disfigurement and death and curse. Even though he perfectly lived before God and perfectly reflected the truthfulness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love of God, he took our place and took the punishment for our defacing of the image of God. He was tortured so badly that ‘his appearance was disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness’ (Isaiah 52:14). And then he rose again and ascended to the Father and took his seat in the artist’s study so that, united to him, we might be conformed and restored into his image.
And how are we being conformed to his image?
- By all things that we experience (Rom. 8:28), especially suffering;
- By seeing Him (2 Cor. 3:18; John 3:2) – that is knowing him, his truth, compassion, kindness, humility in his Word, and fixing our hearts and minds on him (2 Cor. 3:12-16; Col. 3:2,10).
- As a church speaking the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:15-16).
Sometimes these amazing truths are best sung…