On the Image of God: Cecile, Cecil, and Christ
This past summer we heard much about Cecile Richards and the Planned Parenthood videos, as well as the tale of Cecil the Lion, hunted down by the dentist. These stories seem to have touched a nerve in the American psyche. Many were horrified by the cruelty of the hunting incident, while others wondered why more hearts were not touched by the horrors of the Planned Parenthood videos. What is our relationship to the animals, and to the world around us? And what is man, that we should be mindful of him? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? To begin to answer such questions, we must turn to the story of our creation.
In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. As if turning on a switch, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He proceeded to the creation of the water, life’s central ingredient, followed by vegetation. In the sky, he placed the sun and moon, then filled the sea with fish and great creatures, and gave birds to fill the air, and animals that walked upon the face of the earth. And with each creation, God saw that it was good. Finally, on the sixth day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Man, the pinnacle of God’s good creation, was made to have dominion over the earth, to be a steward and caretaker of all God’s magnificent creatures.
While all of creation is God’s handiwork, the creation of man was something special. Formed from the dust of the ground, Adam receives into his nostrils the very breath of God’s life. The scene’s intimacy is striking. From the very beginning, man was created to be in relationship. Seeing that it was not good for man to be alone, He caused a deep sleep to fall over Adam, and having taken one of his ribs, He formed Eve. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. The love between Adam and Eve would mirror God’s image, and from that union of one man and one woman, God would continue His act of creation until this very day.
What are we to make of this story? And what can we say about God’s image that we bear? Throughout the years, some have tied God’s image to reason. And indeed, Christ is the Logos, the word or reason that permeates creation. But our life consists of more than intellect, nor does our IQ determine our worth. Little children are precious in his sight, as are the aged, and those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Others have understood the image of God in terms of righteousness. Adam and Eve were created to be moral creatures, to do what is right in God’s sight. But then, shall we think of criminals as somehow lesser human beings? Even more, we were created with minds and hearts, to know and be known by God. St. Augustine was right to say that the human heart can find no rest until it rests in God. God is our purpose, even as we are the apple of his eye. To man alone did he give the power of speech, the ability to hear God’s creative and loving word, as well as the capacity to respond in love.
With the advent of sin, the image of God was in one sense marred, and distorted. The more we live for ourselves, the less we mirror his image. Cain’s murderous heart hardly reflects the Lord of Life.
Can we then say that mankind has lost God’s image due to sin? Perhaps. But even after the fall, man maintains a certain dignity. In Genesis 9:6, the Lord speaks against murder, saying, “One who spills the blood of man, through man, his blood will be spilled, for in God’s image He made man.” This reality is expressed by James, the Brother of the Lord, who warns us not to employ our tongues in the cursing of other people. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” This worth is not tied to a person’s reason, or even is it wholly dependent upon his goodness. Each person is valuable, because he has been specially created by God.
So, how does Cecil the Lion fit in with this worldview? Does Cecil matter? Yes, for we have been created to be good stewards of God’s creation, to care for the world as a man might care for his house. And, yet, we do so with a sense of proportion. As our Lord says to his disciples, “Are you not worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31) Man alone among the beasts was created with an eternal soul, created to be in communion with the God who loves us.
And indeed, the value of our life has been magnified by the incarnation, by the coming of Christ into our flesh. What man lost in Genesis, is fully restored in Christ, who is the firstborn of God’s new creation. When we look at an ultrasound, and see the child in the womb, how can we not also see Christ, who lived within the womb of his mother, Mary? And when we see a person who is suffering, and near death, how can we not think of the cross, where our Lord died for us, and thereby redeemed all life, from beginning to end. Yes, the image of God can be seen most fully in the face of Christ Jesus, who is Himself the express image of the invisible God. Christ is the head of our new creation, and in him the image of God is fully and eternally restored. And so it is, when come upon our fellow man, most especially in weakness, meekness, and in suffering, we see God’s image. And we know that our worth doesn’t depend on how smart we are, or upon what we can do, but only upon Christ, in whom our Life is restored.
Peter Scaer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana