More than Mammals
Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 5:1-4 (ESV) This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters.
Yesterday I noted that the fact that we all bleed red is a sign of our common humanity, most importantly that the human blood of Jesus was shed for our redemption. However, one might object that other mammals bleed red, too. Therefore, we must add a further point: what separates humans from other animals is that we are created in the image and likeness of God.
As a consequence, Christians often speak of the inherent worth, dignity, and sanctity of human life. Sadly, only about 39% of Americans hold this view today, as a recent survey has shown. The same survey showed that an estimated 69% of Americans believe that humans are “basically good.” If we follow God’s Word, 100% should hold to the former view, while 0% should hold to the latter.
Concerning the value God places on human life, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). What value has God placed upon humanity? The cost of His Son’s life, who shed His precious blood and endured suffering and death to redeem us from sin, death, and hell!
Concerning our “basic goodness,” this is just plain wrong: we should be talking about our “basic badness.”
One aspect of the image of God in Adam and Eve was righteousness, that is, being without sin. Just as God is without sin, so mankind was created sinless and righteous. When Adam and Eve sinned, they completely lost the righteousness that they originally had from being created in the image of God. Now, instead of original righteousness, every human is born with original sin. As we sing in the hymn, “From hearts depraved, to evil prone, / Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone; / God’s image lost, the darkened soul / Seeks not nor finds its heav’nly goal” (LSB 562:3).
Genesis 5 (above) bears this out, showing that Seth was born not directly in the image of God but in the image of his father, Adam. Then Moses, in that rather depressing chapter, goes on to explain the consequences of sin, first for Adam and then for each generation after: “and he died.” As St. Paul says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Being born in this sinful condition, we are inherently guilty and without righteousness. However, Jesus Christ is the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary and to live the perfectly righteous life that we could not. He died to atone for the guilt of mankind’s sin. He has become “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). God restores us to righteousness by baptizing us into His Son. Because we are in Christ, when God looks at us, He does not see our sin but sees the righteousness of Christ.
By the Holy Spirit’s work, we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5;17) and are having the image and likeness of God restored to us through faith in Christ (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24), only to be completed in the Resurrection on the last day. In imitation of God, we then strive to love our neighbor and value all human life, even that of our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
While it is proper to say that we lost the image of God in the Fall since we lost our original righteousness, St. James does not shy away from appealing to the fact that people are “made in the likeness of God” as a reason not to curse them. He writes, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).
So we can still speak of “the likeness of God” in human nature, or “vestiges of God’s image,” even after the Fall. That, along with our redemption through Christ, certainly makes us more than mammals!
Prayer (LSB 422):
On my heart imprint Your image,
Blessèd Jesus, King of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may Your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation! Amen.