We last discussed that being made in the image of God entails reflecting his character. However, it should be noted that although this is the most commonly assumed position on imago Dei, it is the least contextually apparent. If you approach Genesis 1, 5, 9, James 3, and even Psalm 8, Romans 1, Hebrews 2, and any other passage which pertains more directly to imago Dei, you will be hard pressed to find a reason to believe that the characteristics of God transfer to humanity at all! The vast chasm between creator and creation would even beg otherwise! To make matters worse… finding the image of God by determining what is human and not animal is faulty. Sure humans can talk, but did you know that dolphins and orca can communicate; orangutans have learned sign language, and even though they struggle with grammar, they can name items and actions. Yes, humans can rationalize and problem-solve, but so can predators, luring prey to consume them; what about the dogs in your backyard: have they never learned the ways to escape? Emotion? Again look to those pups. Volition? Passion? Decisions and desire? Perhaps animals don’t have ambition the way that humans do: they don’t set major and minor goals, use things as temporary means to ends, etc. But you forget that animals and humans are not the only created beings: angels and demons have volition. And although it is not stated that angels are not created in the image of God, neither is it stated that they are. So these qualities are not unique to man.
But I won’t go so far as to say they are impertinent constituents of the image of God.
What, though, can we be certain about in imago Dei?
Being Created Imago Dei Endows You with Unprecedented Responsibility
Sovereignty, in a lesser sense—or ‘responsibility’ may be more the more comfortable term.
What follows immediately after God creates man and woman?
“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 that that moves on the earth. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit You shall have them for food’” (Gen.1.28-29, ESV, emphasis mine).
And what was God’s intent alongside the creation of man?
“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” (Gn.1.26, ESV, emphasis mine).
At least in the original creation passage, it seems pretty obvious that God has an intent for man and woman to be over everything on the created earth. But not just here, when image of God is alluded to later in Psalm 8, David sings
“You…crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas”
(Psalm 8.5b-8, ESV).
No one else in all creation is endowed with this sort of responsibility and privilege. God, the Creator-King who sits enthroned over his creation seats humanity on vassal-thrones to execute his desire for the created order: man is instructed to till the garden and subdue the earth. Man (in Genesis 2) exercises the right to name animals thus denoting authority over them.
Thanks, Uncle Ben
“With great power comes great responsibility,” advises Uncle Ben in Spiderman. And we would do well to take heed. The authority we have been given is not to be taken lightly, and we are already off to a bad start—Romans 8 reveals that by our indiscretion, those things beneath us became chained to futility. We are responsible for their condemnation.
You don’t have to adore animals, but you do have to behave appropriately toward them and treat them as God’s good, created order. I have a very good friend who is in pest control—who daily exercises his right as God’s divine image bearer: determining the life and death of ‘every creeping thing on the ground.’ He does so with God’s approval and pleasure for these creatures, though created good and not arbitrarily, for which account of blood must be reckoned (Gen.9), are foregoing their man-sanctioned habitat: dwelling where their ruler does not wish them to be. These pests have forsaken their God-ordained authority by lawless rebellion. Sin? No. But improper living nonetheless, and Marc represents God to all the created order when he walks upon the earth exercising sovereign authority over them.
I have a couple other friends who somehow got into their head that killing rabbits for fun was an acceptable use of time… I do not mean a shot with a rifle that immediately severs the mammal from life, but I mean the intentional wounding and subsequent beating of the desert fluffball for sport. And God will demand recompense for the senseless blood spilled (Gen.9). The greater power an agent has, the worse he can awry causing immense damage; or the greater he can achieve causing beauteous glory.
The question is not whether you are fulfilling the role: sovereign over earth, plants, and animals, the question is rather: are you a good king or an heinous despot? Will God rejoice over your use of his divine authority?
Imago Dei: Strand Three
Dignity and Depravity