In God's Image
7 Nov 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
IN GOD'S IMAGE
In the troubled world in which we live today we find man asking the same searching questions that have dogged his footsteps throughout his short history of life on planet earth.
What is life?
Where did I come from?
Where am I going?
Why is there so much strife and conflict?
What is real living?
Never before have these questions, that deal with Man and who he is, been of such overwhelming concern to so many people in so many places around the world today. What is life and who is Man?
Over the last two hundred years new philosophies and theories regarding origins have effectively eroded the time-honoured view of man as a creature of God. In all this, these new theories have failed to provide the true meaning of his life and destiny.
Added to these new ideologies and philosophies is the constant change that is taking place around us affecting every aspect of our day-to-day living. The combined result has been moral restlessness, great intellectual confusion and spiritual bewilderment.
Although there would seem to be a consensus among thinking men and women of all ages that mankind and society in general is seriously ill and in desperate need of healing, they differ on the cause of all this brokenness.
Many have turned to mysticism, eastern religions and spiritualism for answers, but there always seems to be a dry desert beyond. Because man works from his own limited human experience, there will always be areas he can never fully understand.
Others have looked to the rapidly expanding knowledge found in the science disciplines to provide answers to their questions about life. However, while new discoveries in these areas have given wonderful insights and power over our lives it still has not been able to answer the question on 'who man is?' This sentiment would seem to be confirmed by a man called Alexis Carrel, scientist and Nobel Prize winner for Physiology, who once wrote that 'Man is a great unknown and a stranger.'
If we are to discover who and what we are, we need to go beyond the limitations set by our own senses and experiences. We must turn to a source that lies outside of man. This can only be found in God's revelation, the inspired Word of God. In the Scriptures, the Psalmist, himself, makes this clear in Ps 36: 9 (NIV) where he says 'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.'
To understand this concept further we need to go right back to the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, and it is here in Gen 1: 27 that we read the words that tell us in no uncertain terms that '…God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he him…'
On this sixth day of creation, the highest and most complex of all creatures was to be made by God in His image. This was to set him apart as being different from all the other animals. He was not only quantitatively distinctive, but also qualitatively distinctive, something not possessed in any degree by the animals. Man was to be in the image and likeness of God himself. Not in the likeness of angels, but in the likeness of God (Morris, 1979: 72, 73).
In this statement lies the whole essence of man, his origin, his nature and his destiny.
We need to understand in this profound and mysterious truth that there can be no doubt that man was made with aspects of human nature that are not shared by the animals. These were to include such attributes as moral consciousness, the ability to think abstractly, an understanding and appreciation of beauty and emotion, and, above all, the capacity for worshiping and loving God (Ibid: 74).
Author Ellen White in the book Patriarchs and Prophets, page 45 tells us that when man was created, '…his nature was in harmony with the will of God…His affections were pure; his appetites and passions were under the control of reason. He was holy and happy in bearing the image of God and in perfect obedience to His will.'
Man owes his life to God.
Gen 1: 27 tells us very clearly that '…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.' This act of creation is confirmed many times throughout the Scriptures and is summed up in the words of the prophet Isaiah 64: 8 where he says: 'Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter.'
Man cannot exist by himself and has no natural immortality but is wholly dependent on his maker. 2 Peter 1: 4 says that man was made '…to share in the very being of God', who is life.
Our dependence on God is so apparent and this commenced right back in the Garden of Eden where we see the Tree of Life planted in its midst. This tree was a representation of the preserving care that God wanted for His children. As Adam and Eve ate the fruit of this tree they were acknowledging their dependence upon God. The 'Tree of Life' possessed the power to perpetuate life, and as long as they ate it, they could not die.
The protracted lives of the antediluvians were to become a testament to the life-giving power of this tree that was transmitted generationaly to them from Adam and Eve (Nichol, 1957: 988).
While animals and plants were also to depend on God for their existence they were not given the ability to respond to Him. It was only through the very special relationship that existed between man and his Creator that love and gratitude could be returned. That ability to respond also meant that man was to be held responsible for what he would do, what he would say and what he would think.
While the Psalmist in Ps 19: 1-6 tells us that the whole of creation declares the glory of God, it does so unawares, not by its own choice and volition. Man, on the other hand, has the ability and freedom to acknowledge Jesus as his Creator and in this way he can glorify God. This was the purpose of His creation and if it is lost sight of then the image of God becomes marred, man is thrown off balance, and life can lose its quality.
God's glory was not only seen in the mind and soul, but also in the physical endowments that our first parents received and these attributes were to be worthy of the high destiny that the Creator wanted for them.
Author Ellen White in Education page 20 says that they both were 'Graceful and symmetrical in form, regular and beautiful in feature, [with] their countenances glowing with the tint of health and [with] the light of joy and hope…' As such, they bore an outward resemblance and likeness to their maker (White, 1952: 20).
It was God's intention that the longer man lived the more fully he should reveal this image and, in turn, more fully reflect the glory of the Creator (Ibid: 15).
This was the great object, for which they were created - to bless humanity and glorify God rather than to enjoy and glorify self (White, 1944: 354).
Before the end of creation week God was to give the holy pair a clear sign to constantly remind them not only of their high calling, but also of their nature and their destiny as they continued to reflect His image.
By setting aside a special day God was to put a divine seal on His image to remind man of his continued dependence upon him. By instituting the Sabbath, a special gift of grace, God was now to remind them of the fact that it is He who holds the times in His hands (Ps 31: 14). It is He who sustains the universe (Heb 1: 2, 3) and it is He who gives man his life and breath and every good gift (Acts 17: 25). As a memorial of creation it keeps ever present the true reason why worship is due to God because He is the Creator and we are His creatures. This distinction provides the true ground and foundation of divine worship.
The Sabbath is the cord that ties man to God and it is through this seal and through the image of God that man's thoughts and affections were to lead to their maker as the object of their reverence and worship (White, 1950: 437, 438).
Because of their intimate relationship if one is broken the other falls with it and this situation was to become the sad pattern throughout the history of God's people.
Genesis 5: 1, 2 (NIV) continues by saying that 'When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, He called them 'man' [or Adam].'
As male and female in their togetherness, they are called 'man' or 'Adam' coming from the same word in Hebrew.
Man in the Biblical view, is not only characterized by his physical nature but by his personality and his relationships. He was not made to dwell in solitude but was designed to be a social being. Man is always seen as a total person, an indivisible whole. It would seem that being male and female are two complementary ways of being a human person. The Scriptural view of man puts forward the idea that male and female were made for each other. They not only needed each other, but they challenged each other, they complemented each other and they enriched each other. For many, this ideal was to culminate in the marriage relationship that was designed to provide the ultimate in all the blessings and happiness that life had to offer. It was also designed to see the image of God reaching its fulfilment in both male and female, as they become one flesh. This image was also to be seen in the creative power to reproduce as they were told to multiply and fill the earth.
The whole creation was made for a purpose and when it was completed 'God saw everything He had made and it was very good (Gen 1: 31). If we conclude that each step was meant as a preparation for the next we see man as being the one for whom it was all made. Gen 1: 26 tells us that man was then given dominion over the whole earth and everything that was in it.
In order to fulfil these responsibilities every human being was endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator. This part of God's image involved individuality and the power to think and do (White, 1952: 17). Man was made for the exercise of kingly powers and this would have been his privilege had he remained faithful to his calling.
Not only was man given dominion over the earth, but he was also told in Gen 1: 28 to 'subdue it'.
It is here in Gen 1: 26-28 that man's relationship to the natural world is elaborately spelt out. Not only was he given dominion and rulership over God's creation, but he was also given a charter to fill the earth, to be fruitful and to multiply. He was also given the commission to work, to create, to build and to invent and all these attributes very clearly belong to the very nature of man and are an image of our Creator God. Man, in these areas was to be a mere reflection of his maker who was the one who filled the earth with new life and who continued to work constantly in it.
Vigorous mental and physical activities were to become part of the nature and calling of God's image in man, and after sin entered the world, these pursuits were to become a safeguard against temptation (White, 1958: 50). God appointed labour as a blessing and it was in the area of physical and mental activity that Adam found one of the highest pleasures of his holy existence (Ibid).
Sadly, as we read the Scriptural record, sin was to enter this perfect world and was to cause a break, not only between man and God, but also between each other and the rest of God's creation. It was not only to distort his heart, but his soul, body and his spirit as well.
Sin also emerged to attack the government of God, to attack its laws and to attack the principles it embodied. Yet the human race was not to be left without hope. God in His infinite love and mercy had devised the plan of salvation and so a life of probation was to be granted to us all.
Ultimately God's plan was to 'To restore in man the image of His maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized - this was to be the work of redemption' (White, 1952: 15, 16).
Restoration not only implies the eventual vindication of God's government, but the vindication of His righteousness, and the principles and laws upon which it is based that involve love, freedom, obedience and justice.
Restoration also implies reconciliation between man and God, between his fellowmen and the rest of creation, and the eventual restoration of his entire being.
This restoration of the image of God in man is both an event of the future as well as something we can all experience today. The Biblical message of the nature and the destiny of man is one that gives hope for the future as well as one that speaks of the restoration of man's high calling and status today. It is a promise as well as a fulfilment, a possibility as well as an actuality. For 'the very essence of the gospel is restoration' (White, 1940: 824).
How was God to show us what He intended us to be and how was He to bring it about?
The Scriptures make very clear that the very embodiment of the image of God could best be seen in the life of His own dear son. The apostle Paul, when talking about the supremacy of Jesus in Col 1: 15, says that: 'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.' As such, Jesus was to be our example and it would only be through Him and His grace that we will know what God intended us to be.
It was also through His life that reconciliation and restoration for man was to be provided. Luke 19: 10 tells us that '…the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost.' The wide gulf made by sin would now be spanned by the Cross of Calvary. As a result, the Scriptures make clear in Matt 20: 28 that a full and complete ransom was paid by Jesus, pardoning the sinner while, at the same time, maintaining the justice of the law.
God can now accept us as His children and we can claim Him and rejoice in Him as our loving Father. We need to remember that our hopes of heaven need to be centred on [Jesus] Christ alone because He is our substitute and surety (White, E. G., Bk 1 Selected Messages: 363).
During World War II the story is told of an airman who was adrift on the broad Pacific Ocean in a little raft after being shot down by enemy fire. When he was finally rescued, he told his deliverers that the thing that kept him going was the belief that someone would be searching for him.
In that same sense the mission of Jesus to our world was a searching mission. He came to seek and save those who were lost in sin. This mission was to be distinguished by His redemptive work that was to centre on the Cross of Calvary. While His incarnation, resurrection, sinless life, ascension, intercessory priesthood and Second Advent are all important, the cross would seem to be the glorious heartbeat of it all.
All physical, mental, social and spiritual restoration was made possible because Jesus died for us. His words 'It is finished' were to announce to the world that man's restoration could now become a reality.
The apostle Paul in recognising the significance of these events wrote to the Christians of his age telling them in Eph 4: 22-24 to 'Put off your old nature, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lust, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on a new nature, created after the likeness [or image] of God in true righteousness and holiness.' Paul in these verses was making it very clear that being renewed in the image of our maker was to include the new birth.
We need to look away from sin and self and fix our hearts and minds on Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith. By beholding Him we may become changed into His likeness (Nichol, 1957: 970).
However, the work of Jesus on our behalf will only reach its ultimate goal after the Second Coming and the time of judgement when the earth is finally reintegrated into the harmony and safety of the universal kingdom of God. Transformed sinners will then have the privilege of populating this kingdom bringing to an end the cosmic conflict that originally marred the image of God in man.
At this time, God's character will have been vindicated before the entire universe establishing His law in perpetuity.
The apostle John in Revelation 21: 3, 4 makes it clear that he heard a loud voice from the throne saying '…Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God, Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'
God's creation will be restored to its original condition as He first intended and it will be free from sin and all uncleanliness. Man with transformed characters will receive new bodies reflecting the image of the resurrected Christ and in this glorified new condition will once again enjoy face-to-face communion with their God. With new perceptive faculties heightened beyond measure the redeemed will be able to drink in more of the unlimited dimensions of God's glory.
Author Ellen White in the book Great Controversy page 677 suggests that each day in this earth made new will find us engaged in scientific study, artistic and horticultural pursuits, fellowship with those from the unfallen worlds and with angels. Within the context of eternity, we are told that our interest will never falter or the fascinating variety of our activities, diminish. We will never be bored or weary, restless or dissatisfied. There will always be fresh heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, and new truths to comprehend (White 1950: 677).
The power over nature will be restored and the earth will be brought back to its unblemished perfection. The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11: 14- 16 calls our inheritance 'a country' and it is here we are told that the heavenly shepherd will lead His flocks to the fountains of living water. It is here that the tree of life yields its fruit every month and the leaves of the tree are provided for the service of the nations. Once again through this tree, the preserving care that God wanted for His children is seen.
Surrounding this scene are ever-flowing streams supporting shady trees of all kinds. The wide-spreading plains swell into hills of beauty leading to the mountains beyond. It is on those peaceful plains beside the living streams that God's people, so long pilgrims and wanderers will have found a home (Ibid: 675).
The image of God in man is finally restored and the world that He originally created is returned to its pristine beauty. My prayer this morning is that we all take the opportunity to be part of that glorious restoration when the earth is finally made new.
Morris, H. M. (1979) The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House
Nichol, F. D. (1957) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 7. Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1944) Testimonies for the Church. Vol 4. Mountain View, California: Pacific press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1952) Education. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E.G. (1958) Patriarchs and Prophets. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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