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"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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adam and eve

What Does it Mean to be “In the Image of God?”

When the topic of evolution and the Bible is brought up, one of the many concerns people have is how that fits with humans being “in the image of God.”   But before we can go there, we have to address the underlying question:  What does it mean to be “in the image of God” anyway?

For years and years and in different movements and corners of the body of Christ, I have heard this question asked and answered in many different ways.   Let’s look at some of the ideas I have heard, and then I’ll share what I believe Genesis implies about the topic.

Theory A:  God is three parts, and so are we
In the charismatic church, many leaders and teachers put emphasis on teaching about the Tripartite (three-fold) nature of humans.    This comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where people are refered to as being “Spirit, Soul, and Body” – as well as other scriptures alluding to this metaphysical anatomy.    I also believe humans are tripartite, and I did a whole investigation of the topic here.

So, in many areas of the charismatic church, I have heard it taught that humans being composed of three parts is what it means for us to be “made in the image of God.”

While this three-ness is indeed a similarity between humanity and God, I don’t think it actually is a good identification of what Genesis is implying when it first mentions humans are made in God’s image.   There’s nothing in the immediate context of the passage to suggest three-in-one is the main point of being made in God’s image, nor is there anything about being three-in-one in any other verse about being in the likeness of God in the rest of the Bible.   So to make this the main point of “being made in the image of God” is maybe as a conjecture and musing based on disconnected scriptural ideas, but I’m not sure it’s really the best case in the context of the passages where the actual ideas of “the likeness of God” are presented.   If there were nothing else to go on, I’d say its workable and there’s nothing specifically wrong with it – other than that it tends to overshadow the obvious and immediate meanings which I’ll get to later.

But the other problem with it as the dominant theory on Imago Dei (the image of God) being specifically about being in “three parts” is that this setup is not exclusive to humans.   Animals are also repeatedly referred to in the Bible as being “souls” (although English translations tend to obscure this badly; do a study on the Hebrew word nephesh for more clarity) and obviously they have bodies, and less often (sparsely, but it is there) they are referred to as having spirits.   So if animals are three-part beings too, it might bode well for discussing the implications and validity of evolution in theological circles, but it still doesn’t help arrive at what this unique, “being in the image of God” thing is that is supposed to be a specifically human thing.

Leaving my charismatic brethren, we’ll go to a theory I hear often from mainline and non-charismatic evangelical Christians:

 

Theory B: God is a moral agent, and So Are We

I don’t know what the hangup is …or love affair…that the church has with God and morality, as if the be-all of God and man is morality, but here it shows up again in this theory.   (I’ve written before of how I think it’s an unfortunately bad apologetic to try to “prove” God with the “morality exists, therefore a moral God must exist” line – see here, but this seems another symptom of the same obsession.)  While the entire gospel is about how we fail so desperately in terms of moral righteousness and that grace is the answer to it all, we still hang on to thinking morality is the highest aspect of humanity.  Our obsession with morality is right up there with why we as the church often seem to think the Ten Commandments needs to be displayed on secular government property, but I digress.   From here we tend to go to arguments and discussions about whether or not animals can display true empathy, or morality, with some presenting arguments that actually seem to be “yes” to some degree or another, while others hold out saying those animals don’t quite meet the human standard (obviously, as they are not human.)  But this is probably all very unnecessary.

Surely God is really into fairness and justice, truth, law-giving, and most specifically keeping His own oaths, but you’d be hard pressed to define Him as specifically “moral” by any usual definition of the word (that might be a topic for another day.)  But if you want to use the word “moral” to describe God, you’d have to note that the God of the Old Testament assumes all rights to transcend human morality and stand somewhat over and above it.   At any rate, we’ll save all those moral questions and debates about God for another day but….

Let’s just note that in Genesis, the promise of “knowing good from evil” is not something that Adam and Eve were endowed with as part of being “made in God’s image.”  Instead, the ability to become moral agents was something that another being, other than God, first offered Adam and Eve AFTER they were designed and created.   (Until then, humanity’s only morality was to do as God says and not do as God forbids, rather than figuring out good and evil for themselves.)

Why then, “being able to make moral decisions” would therefore be considered as what it means to be made in the image of God is beyond me, as the very concept seems uncannily like a repetition of the very lie that satan offered to Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good from evil.”  While perhaps this is a type of “being like God” – it does not seem to have been the specific likeness of Himself that God was aiming for during the creation of humans in Genesis, but rather a similarity to God perhaps that came later as an add-on via the forbidden fruit, after the fact.  At any rate, to view humans as “moral like God”  seems almost like a Deist perspective to me, or perhaps a hangover from the enlightenment period’s humanist view of humankind.

 

Theory C: God has arms and legs and stuff, so, so do we
I’m not sure this theory is worth covering but since I’ve heard and read people arguing for it, it doesn’t hurt I guess to mention it.   Most folks read the Bible and when it speaks of God having hands or nostrils or whatever normally “human” body parts may be ascribed to Him, they see this as anthropomorphism.  But that wouldn’t be everyone’s viewpoint.   Instead, some folks see physical attributes of humans being a reflection of some sort of metaphysical anatomy that God has.  Ok, sure, why not?   I can’t say for sure what “shape” God’s spiritual form takes.  But still, I don’t think this is what Genesis is aiming at when it talks about male and female being made in God’s image. Why not?

(Because in my opinion,)

Genesis actually makes it fairly clear what it means to be “made in God’s image” right in the context of the first mention of the notion.

So here’s theory D:
Being made in God’s image means taking dominion over the Earth.

Ok, I can see why this theory isn’t particularly attractive.   After all, the word “dominion” generally isn’t a very nice sounding word unless you’re playing a first person shooter video game or something.  And that’s just it: the dominion mandate in Genesis has to be one of the most abused concepts in all of Christianity.   Sinful humanity, and particularly religiously sinful humanity, has a way of really messing up anytime it has rights to power.

But that’s what’s there in Genesis:

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 air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 RSV

God is the ruler of the universe, the head honcho, the one who is greater than all of creation, and he makes humans – to be His representatives on the Earth.   They are the top of the food chain…errr…wait, that’s not what I meant – but they are the leaders of all the animal kingdom and all the created realm, as an echo (or image) of God’s leadership.

Adam is made both high priest and high king in Eden, along with his bride Eve.   Together they are going to rule the galaxy (or small patch of Earth…whatever people knew about at that point in time.)  In short, Adam and Eve are proxies – God’s government on Earth.  (At least pictured so before the “fall.”)

And there are extensions of this.   Jonathan David and Melissa Helser come to mind as they have an entire ministry geared towards releasing the creativity of musicians and artists and basically everyone who will listen – and one of their main points of teaching is that God is Creative, and so humans walking in true creativity is our inheritance as the image-bearers of the Father.   I see this as an extension of the dominion theme – because one of the reasons that God is the one who has dominion is that He created everything one way or another – and so humans being creative therefore the more beautiful form of “taking dominion” in the Earth than that previously mentioned first-person shooter game would conjure up.  Of course, stewardship, kindness, meekness (for these inherit the Earth), these are all Biblical themes about what the responsibility of having “dominion” actually looks like…and of course as the Helsers would remind us, beauty and creativity.

When I told my friends on FB I was writing on this topic, several stepped up to bring forth this very theory, and to also introduce me to the writing of Mike Heiser.   Here follows my friend Eric Weiss’s quote introducing me to Mike (thank you Eric and Mike):

Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Hebrew and ANE scholar for Logos Bible Software, says that the phrase means to be given authority to act as God’s representative. I.e., being made in God’s image meant that mankind was in charge of God’s earth and God’s creation:
“This last example directs us to what the Hebrew preposition translated in means in Genesis 1:26. Humankind was created as God’s image. If we think of imaging as a verb or function, that translation makes sense. We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God.
“This is why Genesis 1:26–27 is followed by what theologians call the “dominion mandate” in verse 28. The verse informs us that God intends us to be him on this planet. We are to create more imagers (“be fruitful and multiply … fill”) in order to oversee the earth by stewarding its resources and harnessing them for the benefit of all human imagers (“subdue … rule over”).”

So why the heck does any of this matter?

Because there is theory E, which I’ll call the “theory of all the theories.”

Theory E:
Jesus is the ultimate “image of God”.

For just as Adam (and Eve) were the image of God which became corrupted, Jesus (and those who ultimately rule with Him as His bride) is the image of God, uncorrupted – in a NEW CREATION.   Just as Jesus said to the Pharisees that Abraham was not their father as they were claiming, because they didn’t ACT like Abraham would have acted, so also we have failed to really be God’s proxies and look and act like Him in this creation.   But there is a new Adam (and Eve) and a new creation, and this one is not corrupted.   This one will see a New Heaven and New Earth ruled over in all the beauty that God ever intended.   And Jesus, as human and new Adam, laid down His life as the ultimate act of selflessness, dominion taking turned on its head in the truest way.

And this, this is ultimately what it means to be in the Image of God.

 

Literal Jesus?

When I talk with people about how Genesis 1 and 2, or the flood narrative, or other assorted things in Scripture are not literal history, the number one concern that people tend to bring up fairly quickly goes something along the lines of (with a huge note of caution, concern, and alarm) :

“Wait – if you don’t take Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then how do you know what else in the Bible to not take literally – and how are you sure that Jesus is a literal person and His story should be taken literally??”

Right.  Well, first, I don’t always know in every case what in the Bible is literal, what is literal while simultaneously figurative, and what is just not.   I’ll just be honest and put that out there.   But as to Jesus being literal, I think most people asking this question might already sort of have a sense of the answer, because as I write it it’s going to seem almost too easy I think.   But fear has a way of blinding us to truths we already know, so sometimes encouragement is just the voice which reminds us of what we DO know, unencumbered by those fears.   But here is my reply:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

Ok, end of blog post.  🙂

No way, that would be my shortest blog post ever!    So let’s look at this a little deeper. Now, it just doesn’t work to go backwards on this – to say that, “In order for Jesus to be real, we have to claim that Genesis 1 & 2 must be literally real too” might seem to have noble motives behind it, but it’s just not a good path to go down.   Jesus’s reality does not hinge on Genesis – rather, Genesis’s reality hinges on Him.  After all, if Jesus isn’t real, most Christians aren’t going to give a hill of beans if Genesis is (at least until the dust settles for them somewhere between Atheism and Judaism.)   And if Genesis indeed isn’t plain history, me lying about it to prop up Jesus’s reality is bound to get us all into hot water sooner or later, and just isn’t generally the type of foundation anyone would want Jesus to have for a claim to His reality.

But again:

“….the substance belongs to Christ.”        

Colossians 2:17

  So to elucidate: In the context of the verse above from Colossians, the topic is about practicing rituals from the the Old Testament (the Torah) like the Sabbath or New Moon or what have you – and that these things have their place, but that Jesus is more “real” than all of those (aka, He is the real, the fulfillment, the actuality of what all those things are.)

Here are more verses on the same general tone, this time from the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 8:5
They [people living out the instructions of the books of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 9:22-24
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood,and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Hebrews 10:1
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

We know that Jesus during His Earthly ministry showed up and had this strong preference for speaking in parables and stories.   We tend to think that this is a uniquely Jesus-y thing – that everything in the Bible is stone cold factual reality and history (except for poetry, of course) apart from Jesus’s very unique and quirky way of getting a point across.   AND, we tend to believe that Jesus told stories in order to really “get at the heart” – to really, truly, illustrate a point in a way that a straightforward teaching might not be able to.   But this isn’t what Jesus or the writers of scriptures had to say about the reason for this style of revelation.   As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, it seems Jesus’s motivations in story-telling were more about a motive to CONCEAL, than to reveal:

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”  Mark 4:10-12


This is, by the way, a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 6:and 6:9

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’

Now, why on Earth or in Heaven God would have such a motive is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and I’ll be up front and say I’m not even going to claim to have a real grasp on it either.  But the idea that God has some delight in concealing things is also seen here:

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” ~ Proverbs 25:2

So we have Jesus, concealing truth by using parables.   Could – Would – God the Father also use parables, stories that conceal truth, stories that are God-breathed but not literally historically true (nor even immediately clear in their intended meanings and use?)  We are told that Jesus is the fulness of God in flesh, and the express image of His person and that “did nothing He did not see His Father doing” – that in fact, He and the Father are One.  So could – would – God the Father possibly do similar things?

 

Actually it’s not totally the right question to ask – it’s not a matter of whether or not God would do the same things as His Son, but whether or not His Son was pretty much walking in His Father’s footsteps – doing the same things His Father always does, had already done.

So we gotta ask the question:  What is WITH this shadowy, copy tabernacle stuff anyway?   Have you ever asked, “Why bother?”   Or, “Why would God do it that way – set up an entire religion for thousands of years when that who system wasn’t even His main goal?”  He is an incredible concealer, isn’t HE?  While at the same exact time an amazing Teacher.

sky-690293_640It depends in part of whether someone has the key to open the mystery. He seems to be able to teach and reveal while hiding and concealing in the very same breath.   He’s a God who surrounds Himself with clouds of darkness, but is Himself a blazing light.  He’s a God who veils Himself, then splits the veil and becomes the way through it, for some it is taken away completely.  And yet for others the veil is never gone.

Maybe it’s unseemly to focus on such things, after all, people are already questioning God’s character and motives in the blogosphere without me bringing up more uncomfortable things about how He does His God-thing.    But while I’m not going to explain too much of the whys, let’s just take a good look at the thing and acknowledge that it’s there in Scripture – because it is.

So here in Psalm 78 is what my friend calls, “The Case of the Missing Parable.”   Asaph starts out announcing that he’s about to tell a parable, a dark saying:

Psalm 78:1-4      A Maskil of Asaph.

 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

  I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

 things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

 We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

And then you can read the rest, all 72 verses which recount seemingly no dark sayings or parables whatsoever, just the seemingly literal, plain, historical (and if I’ll be honest, a bit boring) retelling of the history of the people of Israel and God’s works among them.  My mischievous friend likes to read the whole long wordy thing aloud (which takes several minutes) to folks he ends up having this discussion with, and then matter-of-factly closes the book and looks up innocently enough to shrug and say, “Where’s the parable?”

Maybe we shouldn’t make too much out of Psalm 78’s parable – or maybe we should make a whole lot out of it.  Maybe we should just read it as a subtle hint from a God who conceals things and tantalizes His Kings and Priests to seek Him out.

So let’s bring this full circle:

We know that Christ is the fulfillment of all that went before Him, of everything in the Scriptures.   We know that He *is* the substance, the reality.   We know our salvation is found in Him, not in the first Adam, nor in Abraham, nor in Moses or even in King David.   We know it’s not altars made with tools, circumcisions made with hands, temples made by men, or the blood of bulls and goats that means anything.   It’s not the keeping of days, it’s not the eating or abstention from certain foods, and it’s not even physical bloodlines from Abraham that makes someone a real child of God.   So why are we so entirely horrified and frightened to think that these things we know are shadows and types and copies might not even in some cases even be “real?”

Screenshot 2016-04-18 at 1.37.51 PMWhen the sun shines on you as you walk down the street, does it matter to you if your shadow on the ground has a real beating heart in it, or if it is a real person?    And if you went to your kid’s school and there was a show for all the kids involving shadow puppets, are you going to get upset and feel your child was deceived if you find out that the shadow puppets were just some lady’s hands?

If you were, you’d seem at best really…silly.   And at worst, really unhinged.

Kids are OK with enjoying and learning from shadow puppets.   The ancient Hebrews were OK with Ancient Near East Creation Mythology.   Then in the “fulness of time” when God decided His people were at the right point in the timeline, the lights came on and the shadow puppets disappeared.

Sort of.   Yes, the REAL was finally here.   But even He couldn’t stop telling stories that weren’t exactly literal reality…because, that’s just not how it’s done – and it’s not the Way He is.   But He the Story Teller – and the Story Himself – were and are and ever will be completely real, to the point of being the very nature and substance of Reality “I am Who I am” Himself.

 

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