Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is Every Human Made in the Image of God?

Occasionally, just occasionally, I like to point out something in the Scripture that might correct our understanding of a passage. Today, I'm going to point something out of epically iconoclastic proportions. It has implications far and wide for everything we are, our purpose for being on this rock, and everything we should be doing here. Today, I want to talk about the meaning of the imago Dei in the context of Genesis.

Having just read Walton's book, I agree with his assessment that the imago Dei is a role, a function of humanity. It is not humanity's ontology. In other words, humans are not inherently the image of God.

Now, I am not denying that humans are made to be the image of God. God assigns them that role in the world. Humanity is given the ontology to become that image. But it is not inherently the image of God already. Hence, we cannot say that all people are the image of God, but rather all people are made to be the image of God. That is their purpose.

And if you want to know what your purpose in the world is, you need to go back to when God made humanity and assigned them that role. Obviously, the function/role of humanity is going to be given at creation, since, as Walton just very persuasively argued, such destinies are assigned at creation because they are what constitutes creation of something, i.e., brings its actual existence into the world. Hence, the image is not simply something that is some nice theological statement that makes us feel good about who we are as humans. It is our entire role to play here during our stay upon this earth.

So what is it? And how do I come to the conclusion that not every person is already existing as the image of God? Well, here it is below:

First, we need to look at the smaller passage in Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  And 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 rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Verse 26 tells us that God decided to make man as His image. He then links the role of the image to ruling over the other creatures of the world, and by way of implication, over the earth. This is the statement of humanity's role on the earth, and ruling over the earth is the description of what that role is to accomplish. One cannot be a king without ruling over something, otherwise, the title is useless. It has no meaning to be king of nothing, as you could just be called the peasant servant in relation to nothing as well. Hence, the image is linked to the fulfillment of its function in the world. Apart from doing, there is no being.

In verse 27, God is said to fulfill His plans by making humanity as His image, but in verse 28, the function of that role to rule over the earth is again stated, and clarified to the humans He has made:  

"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 

Now, we usually pass over this passage pretty quickly, but I want you to notice something. The conjunction in Hebrew is usually translated "and," but as any Hebrew scholar will tell you, this is an elementary understanding of the conjunction. It doesn't really mean "and." It can be translated that way for us, but the waw conjunction really just connects two clauses together in some way. Their relationship has to be determined by the content of clauses themselves. So what we really have here is a series of clauses:

Be fruitful 
fill the earth 
subdue it
rule over the fish of the sea 
over the birds of the sky
over every living thing that moves on the earth

The content of the last three clauses tells us that they are all connected as a single statement: 
rule over the fish of the sea and
over the birds of the sky and
over every living thing that moves on the earth

But how are the first five clauses related? The progressive nature of the first five clauses tell us that the first four ought to be taken as purpose clauses that are the steps one must take to accomplish the final duty in order to function correctly as the image of God (and thus, rightly be called the "image of God"). What this means is that we ought to translate the text this way:

Be fruitful in order to multiply, (multiply) in order to fill up the earth, (fill up the earth) in order to subdue it, (subdue it) in order to rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

In other words, the means by which the ruling is accomplished is through the other steps being practiced. One cannot rule over the earth without being fruitful and multiplying. Now, some might take the first two words as an hendiadys. I would not. I think "being fruitful" has to do with engaging in the sexual act and "multiplying" has to do with the purpose for the engagement, but it would make little difference, since both would describe that humans are to be practicing procreation in order to fulfill their role as the image of God. But this essentially tells us that ruling over the earth isn't by means of industrialization, war, etc.; but by means of cooperating with God to bring about human life on the earth. This is the sole means to accomplish the functions of the role, i.e., the destiny we are assigned in our creation in Genesis 1, even though the nature of the role means that we also seek to preserve human life, as in seen in a few places in the rest of the book (Noah saving humanity through the ark, Abraham saving Lot through just war, Abraham and Lot providing hospitality--the preservation of the lives of travelers by bringing them into one's home and feeding them, Abraham attempting to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joseph saving Egypt/Canaan and beyond through storing food for the time of famine). But regardless of its many applications, it's secondary applications should never be practiced to the exclusion of its primary function. The primary means to accomplish the role as God's image is through procreation. You can give a poor man food, but if he doesn't exist in the first place, it's kind of hard to do so. Humanity must thrive upon the earth in order to reverse the state of the uncreated world as tōhû wābōhû "uninhabitable and uninhabited" in terms of human life. Creation is not over. It continues through God's images as they rule by being fruitful (engaging in the sexual act as male and female) and multiply (as the goal of engaging in that sexual act) and fill up the earth (as a purpose of multiplying, thus showing that the command is not limited to having a couple of children), and subduing the earth (as a result of filling it up, thus showing that the land one can take from the animals is not limited) and ruling over the creatures of the earth as the final goal (notice that the creatures described here are not wild animals/predators, as humans would take over their role in the ecosystem once they take the land over--hence, their subjects are the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, domestic animals, and the creepy crawlies, i.e., insects, lizards, etc.). 

The image is therefore linked to the role of humanity and the means through which the role is fulfilled, i.e., the means through which the image functions as an image. Now, I realize that one can say that we all are just broken icons when we do not fulfill our role. In a way that is true. But Genesis presents those who shun the role as seeking their own means to rule through self deification. The seed of the serpent is at odds with the seed of the woman, who is made as the image of Adam, who is made as the image of God. The seed of the serpent, represented through Cain's line, seeks to rule through industrialization, violence toward human life, and limited procreation (usually through a single heir to continue one's line, not to fulfill a subjugated role to God as His image). In this way, they try to overcome death for themselves. Cities, a child or two to continue the line, and gathering resources are ways they attempt to defeat death. Entertainment is born as a way to try to ignore it. Hence, one can live out one's humanity for himself, and create technology as a delusion of his divinity, and ignore his mortality through the escape of entertainment. 
The offspring of the woman, represented in Seth's line, however, is described only as having "more sons and daughters." They walk with God as His images for that reason alone. 

Hence, Genesis presents those who would be called God's image as those who are actually functioning as God's image, not those who were originally purposed to be so. James 3:9 states that some people curse men who are "to become as the image of God," not that they already are. They are given all that they need ontologically to become the image, but they do not fulfill the role by shunning its primary purpose, i.e., "to rule," and the primary means through which that purpose is accomplished, i.e., "procreation." At least, that's according to the Book of Genesis, which all orthodox Christians have taken as archetypal. We may conclude that one may continue to fulfill the ruling over the earth by way of preserving human life long after, before, during, or (in the case of the infertile and single) without the primary means of procreation, through sustaining the poor, hospitality, and most of all, the proclamation of the gospel. These are surely all good works that extend from our role as the image that seeks to work with God to overcome the chaos of a "humanless" world. But, according to Genesis, if the primary means is shunned when a couple has the ontological ability as male and female to fulfill that image, such is the practice of the serpent's seed. In other words, to shun the function of the image is to shun the role of the image. To shun procreation is to shun being the image of God.

So do you want to know your purpose for being here? Yes, it's to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but what is the means of our doing so here on earth? Why are we here? It is for children. It is to raise up covenant children. It is to be life-givers in all that we do, not only sometimes in our sexual practices, but primarily in our sexual practices. And we are to bring up children who themselves will continue the image and be life-givers in the world as opposed to life-takers. Those who are the image of God are agents of life in the world. Those who shun that role, are agents of chaos, whose actions go in the direction of a "humanless" world. We are in an epic battle to remain God's images in the world, and we are losing it on purpose.

Perhaps the empty void, the God-shaped hole you need to fill, isn't filled merely by praying a prayer to the Lord, but by submitting your whole life to Him in reclaiming your role as the image of God? Perhaps, even as a Christian the emptiness remains because you have not reclaimed it? Or perhaps you've just become oblivious to it through the deception of technology and the escape of entertainment? In any case, whether the loss is felt or not, we have lost who we are and what we were meant to be in a sea of self-pursuits that, in contrast to what produces human life, can only be described as vanity of vanities.

I could go on and on about how the image's very presence represents God in His cosmic temple, and is told to fill up the earth as that which completes creation. I could go on and on about how Genesis gives example after example of those who do good versus those who do evil in terms of their practice of procreation and human preservation. But I will simply leave you with God's reiteration of this command to Noah after the flood, which is intensified in Hebrew, rather than diminished in any way.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. "And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given . . ."Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man. "But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it. [lit. swarm/teem upon the earth and be great/numerous]" (9:1-2)

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