Created in God’s image (2)
Man, as originally made, was a truly remarkable creature. Not for him the status of a mere cog in a meaningless universe. On the contrary, here is one who was uniquely made.
The Triune God had created him ‘in our image, in our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26). As such, he could stand tall among God’s creatures. He was his Creator’s unique representative on earth — destined one day to rule even angels (Psalm 8:5; 1 Corinthians 6:3).
But there is still more to this creature’s glory. Both in what he was, and in what he did, he was uniquely like God,reflecting something of his Sovereign’s own great attributes — such as rationality and a sense of moral responsibility, a capacity for fellowship, the possession of volitional and aesthetic powers.
For God’s glory
It was not just that he possessed such capacities — he was able also to use these powers for the glory of his Creator and the well-being of all that he had made. This was paradise on earth.
There is, however, an obvious problem with this idyllic description. It is in stark contrast to our experience of life in this world.
The Bible’s answer to this seeming contradiction is that man is no longer what he once was. Traces of his original uniqueness continue to exist, of course. He is still a rational being; he is capable of distinguishing right from wrong; he exercises the powers of choice; and is capable of admiring beauty.
The terrible tragedy is, however, that all his God-given attributes now tend to be used in perverted and self-centred ways.
What happened to man?
The story of how this change took place is narrated in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. It is part of what Francis Schaeffer called man’s ‘space and time Fall’.
Although it must have been truly wonderful to be the first man — made in the image of God — this privilege carried awesome responsibilities. As representative head of the human race, his departure from even one of God’s commandments would have serious consequences for all his descendants.
That fateful day arrived. Our first parents succumbed to a serpent’s lying promise, and everything changed.
The dream of a superior life — independent of God’s benevolent rule — suddenly turned into a nightmare of alienation and frustration. In place of harmony, there was enmity; where formerly there had been love, now there was fear.
Something tragic had happened to this once glorious creature. The image had been spoiled; everything was ruined. Man was now in hiding from his most precious and faithful Friend.
A breach had also been opened up between him and his specially made ‘helper’. They had become ‘partners in crime’ and were immediately at odds with each other.
Even man’s natural environment was now against him. And he is left in no doubt that the fault was entirely his: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you, in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’ (Genesis 3:17).
Finally, the spectre of death broods ominously over his entire physical and spiritual landscape. Eternity beckons, but only with the promise of more death. Sin has its wages, and they must be paid in full.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What happened to the image?
The testimony of Scripture (including that of Jesus Christ), and the experience of mankind, point alike to the continuing and universal reign of sin and death.
Nevertheless, in some sense at least, the Bible continues to speak of fallen man as made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). In what sense can this be possible?
The answer seems to be that the glorious capacities with which man was originally endowed still exist, but they are now employed in the perverted and self-seeking service of their sinful owners.
Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to show how man’s Fall has affected him in his role as creature, neighbour and steward.
Firstly, instead of using his God-given capacities to worship his Creator, he now employs them in the pursuit of idolatry. His idolatry may, of course, take many different forms.
He may simply worship images made of wood or stone. Surely there can be fewer things as foolish as the creature offering devotion to something that is so obviously a part of the same material world as himself. But then there has never been anything particularly sophisticated about idolatry.
Some worship wealth and possessions; some live for pleasure; others for status. Very often the icons of the modern age are football players and pop stars — but they can just as easily be our own sons and daughters.
The most popular substitute deity is, of course, ourself. Sadly, we find it all too easy to use our reason to praise ourselves, our sense of morality to reverse God-given values, and our capacity for choice in the interests of revolt — especially against God.
And this, incidentally, is what idolatry is. It is not, as many suppose, a well-intentioned search for God, but a turning from him (Romans 1:21-23).
Secondly, instead of using his God-given capacity ‘for fellowship to enrich the lives of others, fallen man now uses this gift to manipulate others as tools for his selfish purposes’ (A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, p.84).
He lies, cheats, steals and murders to get what he wants. He uses art to give expression to his lusts; he perverts the gift of sexuality; and he becomes indifferent to and alienated from the people around him.
Finally, instead of ruling the universe in obedience to God, he uses its resources for his own selfish short-term purposes. Forests are decimated and rivers polluted without thought for the well-being of today’s (let alone tomorrow’s) world.
And for more than half a century, the discovery of nuclear fission has been used to threaten mankind’s very existence.
In saying all this, we are not suggesting that every man is now as bad as he could possibly be. Thankfully, God is still God, and he has placed the wicked within bounds that cannot be broken.
But, O how the mighty have fallen! The question is: Can anything be done for him? Is it possible to hope that that original image will ever be seen again?
Will man ever be what he once was? The answer is an undoubted ‘Yes!’ Indeed, God has already done what is required. For another Man — the last Adam — ‘to the fight, and to the rescue came’.