by David Russell
Welcome to another addition of Stones from the Stream, I am straying from my typical format this quarter and sharing something from what I call the Pastors corner. It is not devoid of apologetics of course, it’s just apologetics with flare. I think it is enormously helpful theologically and helps you understand your apologetic better. So as always, let’s get after it.
Have you ever wondered where that sense of awe comes from when looking at the setting of the sun? Have you ever stared out your window on the way to work to see the beautiful scenery in the sky at day break? Ever wonder what beauty really is and where we get the idea? I was on a camping trip recently away from all the noise and lights, huddled around a camp fire with friends and decided to look up. To my amazement I saw millions of stars, I stood looking up awe struck, amazed; I even saw the Milky Way band stretched across the sky. Out of all that time and wonder, I began to think, I then realized that amongst these stars, some which are larger than our sun and maybe just pale reflections of light from an already dead star, that, all though, I was awed with their beauty, not one of those stars in that entire host knew I was looking at it. It wasn’t staring back at me or even aware that I thought it to be so wondrous. I then began to reflect on what it means to be human.
Soon my mind was flooded with thoughts and images. I began to see how obsessed we are over human rights in our day and age, yet, how often we forget what it actually means to be human and why we hold that humans have rights. I remembered back when I was in high school and the clothes you wore and how you kept your hair defined who you were and what group you belonged to. Even as I got older, I saw how our culture is stigmatized by the image they reflect, whether by professionalism or self-portrayal. Several times I have run across people trying to be something they are not, trying to find an image that suites and fits them but falling short with an effect and recess that leads to depression. I thought about the current state of our society and its obsession with glamour and grandeur. I thought about our lawmakers and wondered if they had lost sight of the foundation of human value and dignity, thinking over the last decade, the decisions made that undermined the family and value of the human unborn. I came to the startling realization that we are a people, because I am guilty too, that have forgotten what it means to be human.
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I began to ask myself this question apart from all my common church answers. I wanted to go as deep as I could, and I knew where to start my search. The church had told me for years, we are made in the image of God. I even go to a church called image. But what does that really mean? To be created in his Image? I opened my bible and dove in, I started with Genesis 1:26-27 it reads:
“Then God said”, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
I thought about the reality of this from a physical stand point and asked; does this mean me and God have the same physical features? No, God is a spirit and spirits aren’t made of flesh and bones according to Jesus, Luke 24:39. So I starting thinking this has a deeper meaning and I found a quote from John McArthur that sums it up better than I can put into words. He says:
“This suggests that God was in essence the pattern for the personhood of man. The image of God is Personhood, and personhood can only function in the context of relationships,” reading on a little further he sums it up. “Man is a living being capable of embodying God’s communicable attributes. In his rational life, he was like God in that he could reason and had intellect, will, and emotion.”
Further in Genesis I found another nugget of truth, Genesis 9:6:
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
It started getting deep- thinking about human rights, I realized that murder is really an assault on God. With that, I could start deducing the real problem with this stigma we have when it comes to image; first, being bearers of God’s image has two vital aspects, intrinsic worth and reflective splendor. Our founding fathers of this great nation had this idea down well, they say this in our Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”
They knew that our rights were directly related to intrinsic worth. Intrinsic worth deals directly with value and self-worth. The reason human life is valuable is because it is transcendent, the value has been endowed by God, given to us by the one in whom ultimate value is contained. This is why we obsess over human rights and dignities, it is so ingrained in us that we find these inherent basic rights as self-evident and, it exceeds cultural lines. Consider this quote from Doug Groothuis:
“Every culture has a concept of murder, distinguishing this from execution, killing in war, and other “justifiable homicides.” The notions of incest and other regulations upon sexual behavior, the prohibitions on untruth under defined circumstances, of restitution and reciprocity of mutual obligations between parties and children-these and many other moral concepts are all together universal.”
But the buck doesn’t just stop here, being made in his image and being human gives us reflective splendor. Jesus deals with this in Matthew 22:15-23:
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”
Jesus is dealing with the same problem we face today, he is dealing with a people who lost sight of their purpose. Reflective splendor deals with our purpose. Because we are made in his image, we have purpose. The Herodians and the rest of Israel had forgotten what that purpose was. They didn’t question him further because they had remembered Genesis one. But seeing how this could have played out, I want to show you what could have easily followed next. The Herodians could have asked “What are the things that are Gods?” Jesus most likely would have retorted, “Whose image is on you?”
So, whose image is on us? We as a culture are quick to forget these simple truths. Why? Sin. Sin clouds so much and at the fall our sight became clouded and has been ever since. Sanctification is a process we all must go through and at times we still have to be reminded to use the windshield wipers to clean the lens we are looking through. Often times we forget and have to do it all over again. We are all guilty of looking too much at others and not through them. Think on that, we often times look at others as we pass them by, we hardly ever look through them. We take no thought or concern that they may be struggling inside, that they are dealing with such hurt and feelings lost, that they need the comfort of the one who placed that intrinsic worth on them. Take a minute and realize this, it’s like looking at a telescope; on the outside it appears to be a metal cylinder with glass, but through it we can see the heavens. Often times when we forget to view the world as God does, it makes us forget who we are at times too.
So realizing the problem and its root we have an answer to why we forget, realizing whose image is on us gives us the answer to what it means to be human. We are people of great worth, we are valued by God. He gives us a purpose due to the reflective splendor of his image, a purpose that requires complete submission to his will. See, those caught up in this fast pace culture often times try to focus too much on self-image. They do everything in their power to try to bask in the sun light of societal approval and acceptance, but what they don’t realize is that the more they try to be unique and different, the more they gravitate towards being like everyone else. There is only two ways this can work, self-image or designed purpose. Self-image (on your own terms) is just slavery; it’s a stab at trying to be different and unique, but the issue is everyone else is trying to do the same and nothing is new under the sun. The real unique thing to do is to live a life of designed purpose. God holds the title of uniqueness, in Him all things are unique because he is unique. He is the only one that can give you unique purpose; the rest is, mere illusion.
The finality of it all comes down to complete surrender, it also comes with a relationship, disciplined with prayer and reading the word. We pray and need to listen to what He has to say. Doing this will help us live a life that reflects the image of Christ; it will amplify the community in which we live and reproduce disciples. Being made in his image gives us all value and purpose, and remembering that could change and transform the world in which we live.