Genesis 1 - Image of God

In Genesis 1:26-27 we read, 26 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.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

These verses tells us that God created man in his image. And because God is triune that means that mankind has been created in the image of a relational God. In the Godhead there is God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit and they all love and honour one another. They are a perfect community of love. So, when God created humans, he created them to reflect the love and honour found within the trinity.

But he also created mankind to rule over his creation. They were his deputies on earth. The first two humans that God created were Adam and Eve. However, Adam and Eve weren’t satisfied simply being deputies created in God’s image they instead wanted to be God. So they ate the forbidden fruit. But when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what they were really doing was choosing to ignore God, and to live as if they were God.

The Bible calls this sin and the wages of sin is death. Therefore, Adam and Eve fell into judgement and death. And because Adam was our representative, all mankind now experiences spiritual, judicial, and physical death. Spiritually every human is alienated from God. Judicially mankind is under judgement and subject to the curse. And physically every man and woman will one day die.

However, even though mankind is now fallen, we are still God’s image bearers. The fall didn’t take away the privilege of being created in God’s image. After the fall, and after the worldwide flood, in Genesis 9:6 God said,

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
    by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

So every human has been made in the image of God, and despite the fall every human remains in the image of God. And that means that every person is valuable. It’s a bit like a brand on a t shirt. If you buy a t shirt from Kmart it will cost you around $8. But if you find that same shirt in another shop with an expensive brand on it, it will cost you $80. What I’m saying is that the brand makes all the difference. And it’s like that with the image of God. Even though every human is fallen and broken, every human still bears God’s image, and should be treated accordingly.

Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher and vegetarian. And he said, “The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.” Which isn’t actually correct, because this notion is far older. It goes right back to the beginning. And while I admire Peter Singer’s courage to share his views, his views aren’t just wrong, they’re really dangerous. Let me show you what I mean.

Peter Singer has also said, “There may have been times when I wondered if there might be a God, but it always seemed to me wildly implausible that a God worth worshipping could allow the Holocaust to occur.” Now this logic might seem appealing at first. However, the holocaust happened because people turned away from God, and they started to teach (and believe) that not all humans are equal and sacred.

The Nazis started by referring to Jews as ‘rats’. And they published awful caricatures of Jews in the newspaper.  And they even began calling Jews “subhuman.” Which was a direct attack on the image of God. It’s similar to what happened in Rwanda where one tribe started calling another tribe ‘cockroaches’ or just ‘roaches’. This dehumanizing language is employed to make it easier to forget that fellow humans have been created in the image of God.

So in response to Singer I would say that the Holocaust shouldn’t turn us away from God, but back to him. We must look to God and embrace the fact that every human is created in the image of God so that another Holocaust doesn’t happen! Remembering that every human has been created in the image of God is the only way to prevent another Holocaust.

The 1946 Nuremberg doctors' trial was the first of twelve military tribunals held in Germany after the defeat of Germany and Japan. Twenty doctors and three administrators stood accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They had participated in Hitler's euthanasia program, in which 200,000 mentally and physically handicapped people deemed unfit to live were gassed to death. And they performed monstrous medical experiments on thousands of Jewish, Russian, and Polish prisoners.

Principal prosecutor Telford Taylor began his opening statement with these sombre words,

“The defendants in this case are charged with murders, tortures and other atrocities committed in the name of medical science. The victims of these crimes are numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A handful only are still alive; a few of the survivors will appear in this courtroom. But most of these victims were slaughtered outright or died in the course of the tortures to which they were subjected ... To their murderers, these poor people were not individuals at all. They came in wholesale lots and were treated worse than animals.”

However, it wasn’t just Germany that dehumanised its enemies during WW2. While the architects of the Final Solution were busy implementing their lethal program of racial hygiene, the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg was churning out propaganda for distribution to Stalin's Red Army.

These pamphlets seethed with dehumanizing rhetoric: they spoke of "the smell of Germany's animal breath," and described Germans as "two-legged animals who have mastered the technique of war." She wrote “the Germans are not human beings," And, "... If you kill one German, kill another — there is nothing more amusing for us than a heap of German corpses."

And, unsurprisingly, in response to this rhetoric, when the tide of the war turned and the Russians invaded Germany the Russians did horrible things to German people. Things too horrible to mention in a sermon. So, during WW2 both Germany and Russia used dehumanising language in an effort to diminish the image of God in other human beings. And the result was unspeakable horror. And the only safeguard to stop this happening again is to embrace the wonder that God created every man and every woman in his own image.

Now, you might be thinking “I know lots of people that don’t believe the Bible’s teaching about humanity, and they haven’t committed genocide. In fact they live a very ethical life.” And I know what you mean. I also know plenty of people like that. People can live an ethical life without a biblical worldview, but my point is that they have no intellectual basis to do so. Without a proper understanding of mankind’s creation in the image of God there is no real basis for an ethical system.

Take evolution. If we believe in evolution, then we must admit that some people are more evolved than others, and therefore more valuable. Which, by the way, is what Hitler believed. And that’s what most people in my philosophy club believe as well. Late last year we had a discussion about equality, and I couldn’t convince them that all people are equal. They had embraced evolution and therefore concluded that some people were superior to others.

However, if we realise that all people bear God’s image then it’s quite easy to say that all people are equally crowned with “glory and honour” and should be valued and treated with dignity. So Genesis 1 is absolutely vital for ethics, because it is the only worldview that gives an intellectual basis for the belief that every person is equal.  

Nick ArundellDavid Assender