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.”
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.”
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.