In the Image of God

In the last few posts I looked at ‘signs’ in some landmark passages from the Old Testament that allude to Jesus.  I did so primarily because they are clues that point to a Divine Mind revealing Himself through these remarkable allusions. But they are also clues to help us understand ourselves.  And to continue with that I want to consider implications of what the Bible says about the origins of mankind.  Using the Bible to understand our beginnings is considered the height of folly in many modern circles.  However, at the very least, an open-minded recognition of the bankruptcy of ‘scientific’ evolutionary theories shown here, and the recently confirmed genetic fact of interbreeding between homo sapiens and neanderthals – predicted from the Biblical narrative – should allow anyone, believer and unbeliever alike, to have the freedom to consider what the Bible says about our beginnings, and to think about what it means.

So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a passage from the creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc.  Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God.  So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will.  In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience.   We make choices and decisions on a daily basis.  God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions.  Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God.  We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way.  In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in Eastern religions, or like the ‘Force’ in Star Wars.  And because we are made in His image, neither are we.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama.  Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty.  This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature.  Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance.  Music so enriches our lives.  We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies.  Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking.  Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.”[1]

Why indeed if everything about us as humans must be explained based solely on survival fitness and differential reproductive rates is art, in all its forms, so important to us?  Dennett, probably the world’s leading thinker on this question from the materialistic evolutionary perspective, tells us that we just do not know.  From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic.  He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral grammar or Tao we looked at in Session Two.  Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is because this is the way He is.  It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is.  Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings.  Take for example this challenge from Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.”[2]

Harris is dead wrong here.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally.  The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality –  but all of us have it hard-wired into us (as Dawkins says) because we are in His image.  Dawkins’ speculations about the cause of our innate morality from a materialistic perspective are less than compelling.  Being made in God’s moral image is a far simpler and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image.  Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other.  So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence  we place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with.  Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us.  We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others.  Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’ or perhaps as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far.  People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will.  We are sentient and self-aware.  We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not.  We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms.  And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation.  We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.


[1] Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43

[2] Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

The Irony and Paradox at Jesus’ Trial

In our modern information age we are rather inundated every day by so many ‘facts’ that we have difficulty in keeping track of them.  So when is a ‘fact’ something significant that we should pay attention to, and when is it just trivial information?  In Session 8: The Return of the King I mention the many facts that are used by scientists, through reason and observation, to make forecasts and predictions about the future. But sometimes, the significance of the facts escapes even the experts. I read not long ago that there are about 10 000 fully qualified (i.e. PhD and Dr.) economists who advise all the rest of the world (governments, banks, investors, your retirement funds) using economic facts to gain insight into future trends. Yet in spite of this impressive array of educated people who ask us to trust them with our economic well-being barely a handful of them ‘saw’ the housing market crash coming in the US in 2008. And even fewer ‘saw’ it coming like a crash. And very few ‘saw’ the glaring contradictions buried in the Euro when the currency was launched with such fanfare and confidence inspired by the best of human wisdom only a decade ago. The meanings of facts are often missed even by the best of us.

Puzzles at Jesus’ Trial

So it is with the trial of Jesus. Many people have seen the trial depicted in a film or read it in one of the gospel accounts. Yet very few seem to have noticed the paradoxes embedded in his trial, let alone grasped the meaning of them. There are several, but for now I would like to draw our attention to one in particular. Here is the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Jewish court in that day) recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,‖they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (Luke 22: 66-71)

Notice how in this exchange Jesus does not answer their question about his being the ‘Christ’.  Instead, he refers to his being something totally different – the ‘Son of Man’.  But his accusers don’t seem puzzled by that abrupt change of topic.  For some reason they seem to understand him, though opposed, even though he does not answer their question about being the ‘Christ’.  So why?  And where does the ‘Son of Man’ expression come from and what does it mean?

The ‘Son of Man’

The Timeline of Daniel's prophecy of 'sevens' culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

Daniel lived ca 550 BC, long before Jesus

Some digging through biblical history reveals the answer.  ‘Son of man’ comes from Daniel in the Old Testament who records a vision explicitly about the future, referencing a ‘son of man’.  Here is how Daniel (ca 550 BC) recorded his vision:

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.  His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.  His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.   A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.  Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.  The court was seated, and the books were opened…

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14)

In other words, the son of man depicted by Daniel was a powerful figure from heaven who would establish an eternal Kingdom that would encompass all peoples.  Now reflect for a moment on the irony of the situation at Jesus’ trial.  Here is Jesus, a peasant carpenter living in the backwater of the Roman Empire, with a ragtag following of lowly fishermen who at his recent arrest had just deserted him in terror, and he is now on a trial for his life. By referring to himself as the son of man he is calmly claiming before Caiaphas (High Priest back then) and his other accusers to be that person Daniel predicted. But Daniel wrote of the son of man ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’, taking world-wide authority and establishing a kingdom that would never end! That could not be more different from the actual situation that Jesus found himself in at his trial. It would seem almost ludicrous to bring up that title with him being in that situation.

Luke is guilty too

And yet it is not only Jesus doing this because Luke also does not shy away from recording this claim even though even at the time of his writing the prospects for Jesus and his fledgling movement would have appeared laughable to any knowledgeable reader of that day.  In the decade of the 60’s in the first century when the Gospel of Luke was written, the movement was ridiculed by the elite, disdained by the Jews, and ruthlessly persecuted by the insane Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero had the Apostle Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded.  It should seem beyond sane reason that Luke would keep that fantastic reference in the mouth of Jesus – and by writing it make it public for all their detractors to scoff at.  But Luke was confident that Jesus of Nazareth was this same son of man of Daniel 7, and so, against all seeming odds, he records Jesus’ irrational (if it were not true) exchange with his accusers.

‘Son of Man’ – being fulfilled in our time

Now consider something. After Jesus gave his reply, and centuries after Luke recorded it in writing, some significant parts of the Daniel 7 son of man have clearly and identifiably been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  Notice how Daniel 7 states of the son of man that “all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him”. Though that was not true of Jesus two thousand years ago – look around now! Peoples from every nation and practically every language (and there are thousands of these) do worship him today.  This includes former animists from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea, the jungles of India to Cambodia; Inuit in Greenland and the Arctic; from East to West and North to South this is happening right now on a global scale.  For no one in all of recorded history is this even remotely plausible – except that very same Jesus of Nazareth. One may dismiss this with a ‘yes well that is due to the spread of Christianity’.  Sure, hindsight is 20-20 but Luke would have had no human way to know how things were going to unfold in the centuries after 62 AD when he authored his book.

And worship, to be real worship, can only be given by a free will, not under coercion or by bribery. If Jesus was the son of man with Heaven at his command then he would have had the power back then to pick up rule by force, but by force he would never have been able to get true worship out of people. For that to happen people must be freely won over; wooed like a maiden by her lover. Thus for the complete prediction of Daniel 7 to even conceivably be fulfilled it requires a time of free and open invitation. This explains the period we now live in, between the First Coming and the Return of the King. This is a time when people can learn about and then freely choose whether they will worship him or not, and its partial fulfillment in our recent times is an indicator or sign that there is a basis to trust that the rest of it will also be fulfilled someday.  At the very least it should raise our curiosity to see how the complete picture of the Coming King is woven through the Bible

And this is so relevant for you and me. Because if the rest of it does come true it will, in effect, smash our lives – in such a bigger way than the economic crash 2008 and its aftermath that is now concerning so many.  So for the next while I hope you will join with me in tracing the development of the themes that Jesus referenced in the Old Testament, that pointed to his First Coming and also to his Return as a King.  These themes are fascinating, are not difficult to follow, and in understanding them could open your eyes to see Jesus differently than you may ever have seen him.