Created in the Image of God – Rev. Deborah Dail
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to 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 wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
As we begin our worship series on “God’s Creative Connection” it makes sense that we would begin with Genesis 1 – the first book of the Bible, the first chapter of the Bible. In these verses we discover that God has not only created the world but also has connected with the world.
The first question of the Belonging to God children’s catechism is simply: “Who are you?” We may have many answers for that question, but the most important answer is “I am a child of God.”
The catechism (which is a question-and-answer document designed as a teaching tool) also poses this related question:
“What is special about human beings?” The answer: “God made us, male and female, in the image of God.” Then the next question: “What does it mean that we are made in God’s image?” The answer: “It means we are made to reflect God’s goodness, wisdom, and love.”
That we are, according to Genesis 1, “created in the image of God” defines both our identity and our purpose. As Christian ethics professor John Kilner says: “The image of God is both our dignity and our destiny.” If only we who read these words from Genesis 1 could fully embrace this truth, what a different world we would create.
Our dignity. Recently, I saw someone post on Facebook these words. “I am worthless.” What deep pain this expresses. I knew only to respond: “You are not worthless. You are a child of God. I love you.” The truth that we are created in the image of God means we have dignity. We are of great worth . . . immeasurable worth. Oh, if we could all remember, embrace, and believe the truth that we are created in the image of God. We are not worthless.
While the children’s catechism says it well, many people have written extensively about the doctrine of the Imago Dei – the doctrine of the image of God. Despite all that has been written, it’s still difficult to precisely nail down what it means to be “created in the image of God.”
Some have suggested that that humans are “in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” (pbs.org) Others have said: “To be an image bearer is to be the sort of creature who can know, serve, and self-consciously worship the Creator.” (DeYoung) Still others: Humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which means we were created good. We are made to be in a close relationship with God — to love God and love our neighbor, who is also created in the image of God. It also means God gave us some responsibility to be God’s representatives in the world, to be the caretakers of God’s creation. So, is the essence of our being created in the image of God that we are rational, spiritual, creative, and capable of making moral judgments? Is this the essence of being made in the image of God?
This week I read a poignant article by a minister whose daughter was born with severe cognitive disabilities. Because of her severe disabilities, she did not meet the traditional criteria for being created in the image of God – she did not have the ability to have rational thought, to create, or make moral judgments. From everything he could tell she did not have the ability to worship her creator. This caused him to rethink his own definitions of what it means to be created in the image of God. Perhaps the first catechism question is the answer: “Who are you? I am a child of God.” Why? Because God says so.
Of course, people have misunderstood the doctrine of the image of God, and it has had disastrous results. I use the word “misunderstood” to be generous, when what I really want to say is that believers have at times ignored this fundamental truth because it does not suit our personal agendas. Sometimes greed and a pursuit of power over other human beings has superseded any belief that all humans are created in the image God. We have ignored good theology to justify what we want to do.
While preparing for this sermon I came upon an article with a troubling title: “How Can Woman be in the Image of a Male God?” The title and its question are troubling at several levels. Scripture affirms that God is spirit. God is neither male nor female. The Westminster Confession of Faith written in the 17th century says this: “There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passion, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute . . .” While it is true that most of the language and metaphors about God are male, this does not mean that God is in God’s essence male. Moreover, Genesis 1 makes it very clear that women and men are created in the image of God. Yet, “misunderstandings” about this have been the underlying cause of the treatment of women by some as “less then,” “inferior,” and “beneath men.” Bad theology can be very convenient for some and very harmful for many.
A misunderstanding of – or convenient amnesia about Genesis 1 – also allowed Christians to justify the enslavement, abuse, and annihilation of other human beings not just here in the U.S. but around the world . . . not just in the past but in the present, too. Some Christians have believed and continue to believe that certain human beings are less human than other human beings, less valuable than other human beings, less in the image of God than others. “The doctrine of the image of God shows us that our duty is to exalt God, not one race over another.” (From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, J. Daniel Hays) “When one people decides to have dominion, not just over the creation but over other people, it is an assault on the Creator.” (Sojourners, Jim Wallis “Who Bears the Image of God?”) Notice, in the Genesis text that God grants humans dominion over the earth, but not over one another.
Jesus is also God. On this Trinity Sunday, we want to remind ourselves of our Triune God. Jesus, in Colossians, is said to be “the image of the invisible God.” As we look at Jesus, we know that he is the image of the invisible God not because of his maleness, not because he was a Palestinian, not because he was a Jew, and not because he was able-bodied. And these are not the qualifications for being created in the image of God for human beings either.
Being created in the image of God is our identity and our
purpose . . . our dignity and our destiny. Remember your identity – you are not worthless. You are precious and valuable. Remember your purpose: to live as one who bears the image of God and affirms that image in all others.
Shirley Guthrie Jr. wrote Christian Doctrine which many of you have studied in an adult Sunday school class. He says this: “Who are we? Who am I? We are human beings created in the image of God. And what does that mean? We can summarize everything we have said in this chapter by saying that it means: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”