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The Imago Dei, Evolutionary Dogma, and Human Dignity

“And God created man in his image;

In the image of God He created him;

Male and Female, he created them.”

Genesis 1:27


            One of the delights that comes along with my position as Discipleship Director at Rocky Bayou Christian School is that I get to lead 3 chapels per week with different groups of elementary school students.  The setting of our elementary chapels is smaller and more intimate than that of our Academy chapel services, and allows me a lot more one-on-one interactions; our time together is usually one of the highlights of my week.

            About a month ago, I was doing a chapel reflecting on Psalm 128 and the fear of the Lord.  I began by asking students some of the things that made them afraid for the purpose of contrasting worldly fear and the Fear of the Lord.  For most students the responses were fairly typical: spiders, snakes, bats, monsters on TV, having to go to the principal’s office, etc…  Yet, my heart broke when I got to mid-week and I was leading this discussion with the third group of elementary schoolers.  One sixth-grader raised his hand when asked about what he was afraid of and said, “old people.”  That one statement opened up what seemed like the floodgates of similar comments, like “the smell of the places where old people stay, etc…”  My heart was crushed that students from Christian homes in a Christian school would make comments like that.  It also made me aware of how our churches have allowed evolutionary teaching to degrade the teaching of the Imago Dei and thus to redefine, even in our church settings, where human dignity and worth finds its source.  Needless to say we set aside the topic of fear and spent our time talking about the Image of God.


The Imago Dei:


            The doctrine that man is created in the image of God finds its roots in Genesis 1:26-27.  God, on the sixth day of creation (literal, 24-hour days, thank you), chose to make a creature that would reflect his being, made in his own image, and set into the world to take dominion of it—ruling over the creation as stewards or regents on God’s behalf.  God made this decision within his Triune fullness, for he said, “let us make man in our own image…”  Thus, at the onset, one of the things that we learn is that mankind is made in the image of the fullness of the Godhead—our image does not just represent God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, but in the image of the Triune God, we were made. 

            What, then, does it mean to be in the “image” of someone else?  The Hebrew term that is used in Genesis 1:26-27 to describe God making mankind in his image is ~l,c, (tselem), which refers to that which is made to reflect the image of someone or something else.  This can refer to anything from a statue or an idol to a painting or drawing of another.  In other words, a ~l,c, (tselem) was something that reflected or represented something else.  It is no the original “thing,” whatever that original may have been, and thus was understood to be derivative of the original.  The image is not equal to the original in any way, the image owes its existence to the original, and the image gains any honor that it might have from the original, not from within itself.   It is worth noting that in the Septuagint, the Greek term used to translate ~l,c, (tselem) is ejikw/n (eikon), the term from which we get the English word, “icon,” a word that carries with it many of the same connotations. 

In many ancient cultures, kings would place a symbol or statue of themselves in a public place to represent their authority and their dominion over that particular town or territory.  No human king could be in all places at once, and though the statue was not the king himself, the statue represented the king, reminded the people of the glory of the king, and established that the particular king had authority over the lives of those who lived in that realm.  This very practice is a human example of what God did in creation.  God not only created man and woman, but  he did so for a purpose—so we might glorify him by taking dominion over the creation as his regents (Genesis 1:28-30) and then turn that work into obedient worship (Genesis 2:15-17).  Adam and Eve were given authority over the earth even to the point of naming the creatures (Genesis 2:19-20), a privilege that only belongs to God.  Thus, note, Adam and Eve did not carry with them their own authority, but they acted on behalf of God and in his authority.  Indeed, their sin was an action taken in their own authority (Genesis 3:6-7), and we have paid the penalty for that action, generation after generation, throughout history, and we continue to pay that penalty in this world today.


Warped but Not Lost:

            We must note, in recognizing mankind as fallen, that we have not lost the Image of God—had we lost that image, there would be nothing left to redeem.  Instead, the Image of God in us has been bent, twisted, warped, and otherwise mangled.  It is distorted, in some cases, almost beyond recognition.  Not only that, I would suggest that many have sought to further warp and twist the Image of God within themselves through intentional immorality, drug use, and body modification (radical body piercings, tattoos, bodily mutilations, etc…).  It is interesting, when you attend to the various Biblical accounts of demon possession, the primary thing that you see the demons doing is robbing the people of the things that reflect God’s Image—they rob the people of speech, of human contact, and they distort their bodies.  The account of Legion is a typical example of this activity (Mark 5:1-20).  Legion robbed the man he possessed of society and family as he was living in the tombs (Mark 5:3), robbed him of human dialogue as he spent his time howling like an animal (Mark 5:5), and robbed him of a normal physical human appearance as he was cutting himself to pieces with sharp rocks (Mark 5:5). 

            We see people in our own society doing these same things to themselves.  We live in a culture where younger and older generations set themselves at odds with each other, breaking down the unity of the generations that is necessary for a healthy society.  As a result, older generations are not passing down their accumulated wisdom to those who will follow them and younger generations are not seeking to learn from the wiser older generations.  In our culture, we go as far as to glamorize youth, so we have middle-aged men and women who have become obsessed with vanity and pursue a variety of youthful activities (we usually call it a mid-life crisis), rejecting the wisdom of age and maturity for the folly of youth.  We see people not developing their intellect, but instead sitting like zombies before electronic amusements (whether TV or computer games) for forty or more hours a week.  We see youth engaging in drug use, which numbs the mind, and over time, does permanent damage to the intellect that is meant to reflect God’s intellect.  A trend that has been growing in popularity is “cutting,” where people slice on themselves with razor blades, not deep enough to kill, but deep enough to damage their bodies.  Tattoos have become the rage as a form of “personal expression” and some people have been going as far as to have tattoos on their face as well as on the rest of their bodies.  Sexual-reassignment surgery has become more acceptable.  We could go on endlessly, and my purpose is not to decry the ills of our culture, though they are many, but instead to point out that when we pursue these activities, we are doing to ourselves the kinds of things that demons have always sought to do to humanity in the past—in many ways, we are furthering the ends that Satan began at the fall.


The Perfect ~l,c,:

            Assuming that the Devil’s goal is to mock God by further bending and warping the Imago Dei within man, then we should not be surprised that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is the restoration of the Imago Dei in those who have been called to God in faith.  We call this process sanctification.  Yet, we must ask what the goal of this sanctification—what the object of the restoration of the Imago Dei—looks like.  For a goal to be a genuine goal, it must not be ambiguous, but must be definite.  With this in mind, Paul reveals to us that Jesus Christ is the ejikw/n (eikon) of God who is unseen (Colossians 1:15).  In other words, one of the aspects of Christ’s redemptive work was to demonstrate to us—in his person—what the goal of our sanctification looks like.  Thus, when Paul speaks of our sanctification, he refers to it as our being made to “share the likeness”—su/mmorfoß (summorphos)—of the ejikw/n (eikon) of the Son (Romans 8:29).  Thus, to set the contrast, all are born into this world after the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3) and after one becomes born again, one is slowly transformed into the image of Christ.  Those who remain in the likeness of Adam stand before God bearing the sin and guilt of Adam; those who are found in the likeness of Christ stand before God bearing the righteousness of Christ.  The image you bear makes all the difference in the world.


The Nature of the Imago Dei:

            There is some discussion as to the extent to which the Imago Dei extends within man.  Some would argue that the Imago Dei is limited only to the spiritual/intellectual aspects of a person and then there are others who would argue that the Image of God also extends to man’s physical attributes.  The rationale for the first position submits that man did not come alive until God breathed into him “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7) thus separating him from the rest of the creatures that God had made.  In addition, this position argues that for mankind to be made into the image of an invisible God, it ought to go without saying that such an image is then contained within the mind and the spirit.  Finally, this position would point to passages like Romans 12:2, where Paul speaks of our sanctification as being guided by the transformation (“metamorphosis”) of our minds, and 1 Peter 1:13, where Peter commends us to “gird up the loins” of our minds.  The strength of this also lies in the diversity of the human race and form and in the fact that the Scriptures reveal almost nothing about the physical form of Jesus while revealing countless insights into his spiritual, moral, and intellectual state.

            The theological ramifications of this first, and predominant, view are many.  To begin with, this view leaves one open to a Greek dualistic division of mind and body.  Also, it denies the unique created beauty of the human body.  If the body is simply an incidental vessel used to house the eternal spirit, what motivation is there to treat the body with dignity so long as the mind is intact?  Such a view has led to Christian asceticism as well as to gluttony amongst believers.  C.S. Lewis develops this idea further in his Chronicles of Narnia and in his Space Trilogy.  In each of these sets of stories, there are creatures of many forms and types, yet all bear the Image of God—in the language of the Space Trilogy, they are all hnau.  Thus, in turn, Azlan can come in the form of a Lion to redeem peoples of various forms and types. 

The great danger of this position lies in the fact that it posits being rational, and not being human, as the qualifier for being an Image Bearer, and this has sweeping social consequences.  What about the person in a vegetative state, is this person no longer in the Image of God because of a lack of brain function?  What of infants and even embryos, do they exhibit sufficient rationality to be declared image bearers?  How do we decide what that mark of “sufficient” rationality is?  Certainly Scripture does not inform us clearly on that matter unless we are to take Jude 10 to imply that as unbelievers act as “unthinking animals,” that only those who are born again believers should be considered Image Bearers.  Does that mean that only believing humans have moral dignity that is intrinsic to their very being?  What if the science-fiction writers are correct and there are races of aliens on different worlds?  What about robots created to simulate human thought?  What of certain animals—certainly some monkeys exhibit more “rationality” than some infants. 

It seems far more theologically and morally consistent to affirm that the Imago Dei is contained within the physical as well as the spiritual/intellectual form of man—our totality being God’s representative upon this world.  God designed our bodies in a particular way, and we look markedly different than any other species on the planet.  God uses human terms to describe himself to us (hands, feet, etc…) and while any theologian worth his salt will point out that this is merely an anthropomorphism, God regularly chooses to use such language to convey meaning when it is not necessary to make his point.  But more importantly, Christ took on flesh not simply to dwell with us in the flesh and to die in the flesh, but to redeem the flesh as well.  And, as a result of that redemption, we will have new, glorified bodies as well in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).  Were the Imago Dei contained only in the intellectual/spiritual aspects of man, what would be the purpose of redeeming the body as well as the spirit?  Thus, for the purposes of this discussion, I suggest it be considered that the Imago Dei rests not only in the mind and spirit of man, but in the flesh as well.


The Rise of Darwinism and the Decline of the Imago Dei in Religious Thought:

            We live in an age where doctrine is often considered to be irrelevant to Christian life—a consideration that reflects the woeful lack of understanding as to what doctrine really is and represents, but that is a debate for another day.  More importantly, we live in a culture that is a product of Darwinian teaching in the classroom and that teaches a humanistic and not a Christian worldview.  Sadly, this kind of teaching has a devastating effect on society as a whole, and has even infected Christian churches and Christian schools, as the experience that I shared in my introduction demonstrates.  So, what has happened?

            To understand this, the first thing that one must do is understand the philosophical ramifications that come along with a Darwinistic/naturalistic/humanistic worldview.  To begin with, under an evolutionary model, mankind has risen to a place of prominence in this world simply through a series of genetic mutations brought about by cause and effect—the process that governs all of nature.  It is also assumed that humans are still in the process of evolving, opening the door for a hierarchy within the human race, some people groups being “more evolved” than others.  In the naturalistic model, there is no room for human freedom (libertarian or compatiblist), in fact, there is no will at all—the only thing that there is room for is naturalistic determinism.  In addition, as neither reason nor presuppositions can be adequately explained in a causal world, what we perceive to be thought, willful choices, morality, and meaningful principles is merely an illusion—a figment of our imagination, but then again, imagination itself cannot be accounted for as a result of cause and effect.  Furthermore, naturalism permits no transcendent God upon which ideas and norms find their meaning.  Morality, then (even though it is an illusion), is nothing more than a set of social constraints imposed on the people by the ruling class.

            With no creator to serve and to guide one’s life, the Darwinian worldview leaves one to determine one’s own meaning and purpose.  Thus, if your life is to have meaning and worth, you must create that meaning and worth yourself.  This is a stark contrast to the Christian model, which asserts that our meaning and significance is not self-generated or self-decided, but is given to us by God as bearers of his image.  In other words, the very fact that we are created in the image of God means we have dignity and purpose in our lives.  The answer to the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” is not left up to us, but is given to us by God, for the answer is that life is given to us so that we might glorify Him with the aim of enjoying Him forever. 

            So, where does that leave us?  Given then, the naturalistic worldview that Darwinism demands, we live in a society where a great many (if not most) people understand the value of their life to be something that they earn by their accomplishments.  What are the societal ramifications of this? 

  1. Abortion is legal and even encouraged in certain segments of our culture.  In addition, many doctors even counsel parents to have selective abortions for high risk pregnancies, multiples pregnancies, and pregnancies where the child has a probability of being born with severe physical or mental disorders.
  2. Partial-Birth Abortion, which is nothing short of infanticide concurrent with delivery, is promoted as an ethically viable action in certain segments of our society.
  3. Children with disabilities are often mainstreamed in school systems and do not receive the specialized attention that they need to master skills.
  4. The poor and homeless are considered second-class citizens and rarely receive the legal and societal support necessary to become self-supporting.
  5. Elderly are often placed in care homes where adequate care is not given.  Elderly in such homes often go unvisited by family. Neglect and abuse of said patients is also commonplace.
  6. Euthanasia is considered a “humane” option for the elderly and severely disabled by some segments of our culture.

The list could go on, but the point is clear: if you don’t have a clear sense that your dignity comes from the fact that you bear God’s image, your view of human worth will be based on what the person produces, not upon whose image that they bear.  Thus, when the value of life is based on production, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, etc… all become reasonable options in society.  At the same time, when you hold to a clear articulation of the doctrine of the Imago Dei, a person has dignity regardless of what they are capable of producing; hence the newest embryo and the most decrepit individual have dignity and worth, for they both bear the image of the divine creator.


Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed

            This is a documentary movie that is soon to arrive in cinemas that is designed to expose the way that Darwinistic scientists have been black-listing scientists who would suggest that a designer guided the development of life on earth, not random chance mutations.  The purpose of this movie is not to set forth an argument for Biblical creation nor is it designed to argue for the doctrine of the Imago Dei.  Instead, its purpose is to expose the censorship that is taking place against those in what is called the “Intelligent Design” movement.  To this end, one of the things that the movie brings out is the serious danger to social institutions and human worth that comes from a Darwinian naturalistic worldview.  In particular, the genocides of the 20th century are brought out as a result of consistent naturalistic thought (one race is further developed than another).  This line of reasoning does underline the importance of the doctrine of the Imago Dei, and for that, this movie promises to have great value.  The Christian must be warned, though, that if he expects to see an argument for a Biblical model of creation in six-literal days, he will be sorely disappointed.  Theologically, Intelligent Design is a contemporary version of Natural Theology from previous generations, and while Natural Theology can and does clearly point to the existence of a God, the best description of God that Natural Theology can arrive at is the description of the God of Deism.  Without the Bible, you cannot know the God of the Bible, hence proponents of natural design hail from seemingly every religious background.


Final Thoughts:

            We are left asking the question, “What does this doctrine of the Imago Dei mean for me?”  What it means is that first, we must recognize the human dignity that is in others—regardless of their age, their development, their circumstances, or their accomplishments.  We have dignity because we are created in God’s image—from the embryo to the grave (and even in the grave, in terms of the dignity with which we honor the dead).  Secondly, we need to help others understand that they have dignity because they bear the image of God.  Largely this is taught by the way we treat others, particularly those who have nothing in this world.  When we treat the homeless beggar with dignity and respect, that will go a long way to teach him that he has some genuine value in this world.  And thirdly, we who understand that humans bear the image of God, must work to protect the dignity of others.  This third element should lead us to social actions that will abolish institutions and practices that rob people of the dignity that is theirs because they are created in God’s image.