August 29, 1999
CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
God created man in his own image. Genesis 1:27
“Wickedness is no more a man’s fault than bodily disease.” Those are the words of Charles Darwin. Darwin also said, “At some future period … the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races.” Why would Darwin say things that sound so immoral and racist? Because he believed people are merely the result of evolution through random variation and natural selection. Darwin figured that if who we are and what we do are just results of a biological process, then people aren’t really responsible for their behavior. He figured that if survival of the fittest is the supreme reality, then racial groups he considered “civilized” and superior would eventually wipe out those he considered inferior.
Darwin has many modern disciples who see humanity as the result of a purposeless process and who agree with Darwin that this means there’s no basis for moral judgments. Prominent Professor William Provine lists five main points:
First: Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with mechanistic principles. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable…
Second, modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society.
Third, human beings are marvelously complex machines. The individual human becomes an ethical person by means of two primary mechanisms: heredity and environmental influences. That is all there is.
Fourth, we must conclude that when we die, we die and that is the end of us…
Finally, free will as it is traditionally conceived … simply does not exist … There is no way that the evolutionary process as currently conceived can produce a being that is truly free to make choices.
In short, there’s no God, no supreme standard of right and wrong, no rewards in heaven or punishments in hell, and no free will or personal choice whatsoever.
Is it wrong for a man to abandon his wife and children and sleep with many different women? Says who? The man isn’t making personal choices; that’s just the way he’s evolved. The more women he sleeps with, the more offspring he’s likely to have–and isn’t that what evolution is all about?
Is it right to feed starving people, or give medical care to sick people, or help those with disabilities, or protect the rights of minorities? Says who? If you look out for yourself and your close relatives and let the weaklings become extinct, you’re following the flow of evolution.
Were the Nazi death camps evil? Says who? There’s no absolute standard of good and evil, the Nazis were products of heredity and environment, and they had no free will. Besides, it’s natural for one population group wipe out competing populations. It’s survival of the fittest.
Some of us may be outraged at such things, but according to atheistic evolutionism, our sense of moral outrage is just a chemical accident. For that matter, so is everything else about us. Language is a chemical accident. Memory is a chemical accident. Rationality is a chemical accident. Romantic love is a chemical accident. Decision-making is a chemical accident. Courage is a chemical accident. The longing for life after death is a chemical accident. “[Man’s] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs,” said atheist Bertrand Russell, “are only the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms and molecules.”
In other words, your thinking isn’t really thought, your feelings aren’t really feelings, and your will isn’t really making any choices. In fact, you’re not really you. You may think you’re a person with an individual consciousness, but you’re not. You’re just a complex machine that’s arisen after a long series of chemical accidents.
Now, let me just ask you, What sense does it make to believe a theory that contradicts everything you know about yourself? A sound theory is supposed to explain known facts, and atheism can’t explain things like morality and rationality and individual consciousness and love. It just tries to explain them away. But come on! We know these things are real; they are essential to who we are as human beings.
Humanity is not the result of a purposeless process; we are created by God himself. In fact, God’s purpose in creating us was to picture something of what God himself is like. The Bible says, “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).
Being created in God’s image is what gives us our dignity and importance. It’s what gives us a sense that there’s a difference between good and evil. It gives us the capacity to make choices. It makes us thinking, rational beings. It determines our relationship to the creation around us. It defines the relationship between men and women. And the fact that all people are created in God’s image is what makes it so wrong to harm them and so right to help them.
What does it mean to be created in God’s image? One thing it obviously means is that people are important. God is great and majestic, so anyone created in his image also has a kind of majesty. In Psalm 8 the Bible says,
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! …When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Contrast that with what Charles Darwin wrote. “Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work worthy the interposition of a deity,” said Darwin. “More humble & I believe true to consider him created from animals.” Darwin taught that accidental evolution made man a little higher than the monkeys. The Bible says God “made him a little lower than the heavenly beings.”
Astronomer Carl Sagan rejected the Bible’s high view of humanity and accepted Darwin’s view. In Sagan’s words,
As long as there have been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
The writer of Psalm 8 would agree with Sagan that we do seem small compared to the vastness of space. But while Sagan sees this as a sign that we don’t matter much, the psalmist sees it as one more reason to worship God’s majesty, and he marvels that the infinite Creator of stars and galaxies has given such enormous importance to small creatures like us. Sagan describes our place in the universe with words like “insignificant,” “humdrum,” and “forgotten.” The psalmist says we’re “crowned with glory and honor” and that God is mindful of us and cares for us.
We’re created in God’s image. That makes each of us very significant. It’s also the key to making sense of who we are.
Take the fact that we’re rational beings. We have the ability to think, remember, make deductions, use language, and communicate with others. But how do we know that our thoughts have anything to do with reality? Think about it. How do you know that anything exists outside your own mind? How do you know it’s not all an illusion? How do you know other people exist? You can’t prove it. And yet you can’t help believing it. You just know it in your “knower.”
Or how about memory? How do you know you didn’t pop into existence five minutes ago with a brain full of signals that merely seem like memories? You can’t prove your memories are real–you just know it in your knower. And why? It’s part of the way God made you.
However, if you believe the Darwinist view that human origins have nothing to do with God, you have no reason to think human beings have any built-in capacity for knowing the truth. Richard Rorty, one of today’s foremost philosophers, insists that humans are are not designed to know what is true or to seek what is right. Rorty says, “The idea that one species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just toward its own increased prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in moral compass–a conscience.”
There’s a great irony here. Darwinists insist that their view is rational and true, but if you believe Darwinism and see humanity as the result of a random process, you have no ground for supposing human thoughts–including your own–have any link to reality. Atheist William Provine once said that in order to believe in God, you have to drop off your brain at church-house door. But who is dropping off his brain? Provine’s atheism says that his own brain is an accident and that all his beliefs are accidental, so how can he be so sure he knows the history of the universe and the origin of man? How can he claim to know anything at all? Why should he suppose that the accidental ideas in his accidental brain are in touch with reality?
The truth of the matter is this: a God of infinite wisdom designed us in his image. We don’t have the infinite mind and unlimited knowledge of God, but our Creator has given us mental capacities and language skills that can connect us with truth.
Let’s look at another way we reflect God: our capacity for relationships. The Bible says that when God created people in his image, he created them male and female (Genesis 1:27). The oneness of man and woman in marriage, the bonding of parents and children, and the unity of close friendships are intended to reflect the loving unity within God the Trinity. From all eternity Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united to each other in love and purpose and in their very being as one God, and our capacity for unifying relationships is an important aspect of the image of God in us.
The hard-core evolutionist has no room for any relationship that goes beyond simple biology and the drive to survive. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “We are survival machines–robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” Romance and long-term commitment and even friendship are really nothing but chemical reactions in robots. Family bonds are just evolutionary adaptations to insure the propagation of one’s own genes. Even behavior that seems completely unselfish can be explained in evolutionary terms. A soldier who falls on a grenade to save his companions, a doctor who leaves a lucrative practice to work in a desperately poor neighborhood for little pay–there’s got to be some evolutionary instinct or other than can explain it. These explanations are often so far-fetched they’re comical, and yet they’re presented with a straight face and the claim that now you know the real, rational explanations.
If you want to understand people and their relationships, you can’t just compare them to chimpanzees or robots. You need to consider more than just the details of biology or chemistry. Romance and marriage involve a spiritual chemistry that’s more than just body chemicals. Friendship and loyalty have a deeper basis than just the survival of DNA similar to one’s own. Promises have a meaning that is rooted not just in survival instincts but in the faithfulness of God. To make sense of relationships, we need to know that we’re created in the image of God, who is a Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit are united in eternal relationship, and as God’s image bearers, we humans are created to live in relationship.
Another dimension of the image of God is that we’re spiritual beings designed for eternity. God has put something inside us that is designed to click into place only when we connect with God. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We have a yearning for everlasting life. We have a need to know the infinite God. People are almost incurably spiritual. Only with the greatest effort can we stifle these longings and pretend there’s nothing more to life than the physical. When God made us in his image, he gave us a spirit and put eternity in our hearts.
Still another way we’re in God’s image is the position we humans hold in the created order. Genesis 1 teaches that God created man to rule over the various creatures on earth, and in Psalm 8 the Bible says, “Lord you made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.” God is the supreme ruler over creation, and he’s appointed humans who bear his image to represent him and rule on his behalf.
Now, of course we shouldn’t suppose that any of this makes us equal to God. A president may give authority to a cabinet official, but that doesn’t mean the official is the president. He’s always under the one who appointed him, and he’s responsible to him. Likewise, being God’s representatives in ruling creation doesn’t give us a mandate to do as we please with creation. We’re ultimately accountable to the Lord who put us in this position in the first place. We must answer to him.
This brings us to another vital truth about being God’s image-bearers. It’s not enough to have certain capabilities (such as rationality or relational awareness or a longing for the eternal) that reflect divine capabilities. It’s not enough to hold a position of authority that represents God’s authority. To truly image God, we must resemble God in the way we use our capacities and in the way we exercise our rule. Only then does God’s image really shine forth from us.
God’s character is the original pattern for our character. We’re created to image his goodness and love. This is the basis of moral standards. We somehow know that not all behavior is equally right. Each of us has a conscience, an internal gauge of whether we are matching the standard set by God. Our conscience has been damaged by sin, so we don’t always agree on the exact details of what’s right or wrong, but we know there is a higher standard, even when we disagree about some details. The very fact that we argue with others about what is right means that we’re appealing to a standard higher than ourselves. Who could be the source of such a higher standard except God himself?
We saw earlier that if God didn’t make us in his image, we’re just accidents of evolution. In that case, morality is an illusion, and it may even be an obstacle to progress. The atheist journalist H. L. Mencken, renowned for his sarcastic coverage of the so-called “Scopes monkey trial,” said as much. Echoing the atheist philosopher Nietsche, Menken wrote,
There must be a complete surrender to the law of natural selection–that invariable natural law which ordains that the fit shall survive and the unfit shall perish. All growth must occur at the top. The strong must grow stronger, and that they may do so, they must waste no strength on the vain task of trying to lift up the weak.
Mencken despised biblical moral teaching, which demands respect for all people and commands those with advantages to help the disadvantaged. Compassion for the weak hinders the progress of the strong. Historian Garry Wills points out how Mencken insisted on the superiority “of men over women, of whites over blacks, of Gentiles over Jews, of the elite over the mob” and how he urged that these superiorities be “maintained and built on in the name of progress.” Hitler couldn’t have said it better.
If Darwinism were ultimate reality and God didn’t exist, then all of this would be perfectly rational. But it’s not rational at all. It’s twisted and wrong. God does exist. He’s made us in his image. And that means we have an obligation to love God and to love other people.
God is ultimate reality, he’s the one who created us, and our supreme duty is to love him, worship him, and obey him. We’re responsible to resemble him by being truthful and faithful and holy, by loving good and hating evil. When we fail to do that, we sin against our Creator, we spoil his image which we are designed to reflect, and he holds us responsible.
Closely related to this, we must also recognize God’s image in other people and love our neighbors as ourselves. In the Bible, God condemns murder because it takes the life of someone made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). God also says it absurd to pretend you can praise God while at the same time you hate or curse another person who is made in God’s image (James 3:9). The most important thing about anyone you meet, then, is not gender or skin color or IQ or income level, but the fact that this person bears God’s image and therefore ought to be loved. Loving God and loving our neighbor–that’s the summary of biblical morality, and it’s the only way God’s image comes to full expression in us. But, sad to say, we all have a terrible tendency to rebel against God and to mistreat our neighbor.
The first humans, Adam and Eve, were created in God’s image, but they rebelled against him, and we rebelled right along with them. Our sin has distorted God’s image in us. We’ve used our rationality to think up complicated lies, we’ve used relationships to manipulate and use other people, we’ve turned our yearning for the eternal into false religion, and instead of using our power over the earth to represent the rule of God, we’ve corrupted and ruined much of the creation around us.
We need to get out of this mess somehow. We need to restore the image of God that we’ve defaced. But we can’t do this on our own. We can’t undo the effects of Adam’s sin. What we need is nothing less than a new Adam. We need someone who bears God’s image and obeys God and perfectly resembles him. And we need the life of this perfect image-bearer in us.
In other words, we need Jesus Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). In Jesus we see that it is not God’s way for the strong to wipe out the weak. The almighty Son of God laid his power aside and came to earth as a man. His life of love perfectly expressed the life of God in human form. He was God among us in the flesh. Christ died for the sins of the old humanity in Adam, and he rose from the dead to create a new kind of humanity, the kind God intended from the beginning.
The Bible says that we can be joined to Christ by his Holy Spirit, and we can be “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). We can be set free from the old fallen self and be given a new self in Christ, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Our longing for truth, for relationships, for eternity, for true righteousness–all aspects of being created to reflect God’s image–are fulfilled as we are created afresh and born again to new life in Christ.
Some people, including a number of prominent thinkers and authors, don’t believe humanity was created in God’s image and don’t recognize Jesus for who he is. Is that because they’re so brilliant? No, it’s because they are blind. Satan “has blinded the minds of unbelievers,” says the Bible, “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
But, thank God, even if you’ve been blinded, you can receive sight through God’s Holy Spirit. He can overcome your blindness and show you the truth. You can be born again to new life through faith in Christ and be recreated in God’s image. So believe in Jesus and follow him. Then the words of Scripture will apply to you: “You have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! We thank you for creating us in your image, for the dignity and marvelous abilities and authority you’ve given to us.
But, Father, we also confess how dreadfully we’ve misused all this. We’ve sinned and vandalized your image in us. We’ve failed to resemble your holiness and righteousness.
Lord, forgive us. Lift our eyes to Jesus. Help us see in him the image of the invisible God. By your Spirit, create in us the new self which is renewed in knowledge in the image of our glorious Creator. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.