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CFOT THEOLOGY COURSE | IMAGO DEI

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In the CFOT Theology course the first year cadets, The Proclaimers of the Resurrection, have been asked to give consideration to Salvation Army Doctrine #5, Genesis 1:26, 27 and the movie The Elephant Man, and articulate a theological understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God.

The following essay is by Cadet Randy Holden.

What does it means to be created in the image of God yet sinful?  To articulate a theological understanding of this is to show this affirmation scripturally, and gain an understanding of the purpose and function of how this is lived out as a creation of God. A study of both this “image” and the aspect of “sin” are necessitated to complete this theological understanding.

Genesis affirms our being made in the image of God (1:26-27) and it is later that the traits of sinfulness enters the picture (Gen 3:6). When God spoke of our being made in His image, He is in fact referring to Himself as King and Creator. To be made in this image is to be worthy of honor and respect. Male and female, being made in this image of God, are indeed blessed and go forth exercising dominion over all of nature and earthly creatures.

It is in this state or image that for which we were created.  Being mirrored is His image, we were designed to be living in a state of love and harmony with Him, with each other and all of creation. The image of God was to be reflective, seen and developed in our character and holy living. Created to live in harmony with Him, we were to be alongside Him to have care and dominion over all that God created on earth (Gen 1:26-31).  

Being made in God’s image means that we like Him, can think, react and choose. We are a reflection of the Almighty God.  Image, used here, is a copy or a counterpart. He didn’t create another God – He created an image, a copy, a counterpart, to reflect His glory. Our image is not in our appearance or looks, but as a counterpart we share His characteristics.

That we are like God is supported scripturally. As God is a Spirit, we are a spirit. In the book of John we read; “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (4:23-24). So this is how we relate to God on a spiritual level. We were created with the ability to choose. With this freedom of choice, we can choose to follow God or choose to follow our own desires. This is demonstrated when Joshua said to the people of Israel “… but if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. Whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:14-15).

The ability to choose, to reason, to intellectualize, to have dominion over nature and the animals of the earth, is to be created in the image of God. Only humanity was given this. The human capacity for moral awareness, for knowledge and the ability to share in the fellowship with God is to be created in the image of God. Even with this being evidenced scripturally, interpreters were still left divided. The Latin phrase Imago Dei means “humanity being made in God’s image and likeness”[1] and it was interpreted differently between Jewish and Christian theologians. Jewish theologians would say that God created humanity in the image of the angels, given the angelic audience of the text. Christian theologians connected the image likeness to be of God and man.

Distinctions were also made between the phrases “image of God” and “likeness of God”. McGrath says; “Tertullian for example, would say humanity retained the image of God after sinning, and it could only be restored to the likeness of God through the retaining of the Holy Spirit. Whereas Origin would claim the term “image of God” referred to humanity after the fall and that the “likeness of God” referred to human nature after its perfection at the final consummation”[2] . Another approach in this period of time interpreted the image in terms of human reason, a rational faculty mirroring the wisdom of God. The image was also seen being related to redemption, bringing the image of God to its fulfillment.

The freedom of the will to which we have given Scriptural reference and affirmation was likewise interpreted differently by scholars. Augustine would emphasis limitations to this free will (not a Biblical term) having been weakened through sin. Augustine would claim that in order for free will to be restored and healed, divine grace was required. Due to sin, the ability to think clearly was not possible. Being born with this disposition, humans would have an inherent disposition towards acts of sinning. Romans chapter 8 will speak to sin impairing our sense of what is right, however this Scripture will speak of our ability to discern God’s will. So there is grace where there is sin; we were born in His image yet with sin. The contrasts of both provide alternatives and hope.

It can be stated that sin is anything contrary to the will of God.   Salvationist Army doctrine states “sin relates to more than what we do.  It arises from what we are.” [3]  Preacher and theologian John Wesley would clearly speak of the human nature, unaided by God, as being “wretched, poor, miserable and blind.”[4]  Wesley’s theology spoke of sin as being a threefold cord against Heaven. However he did speak of God’s grace as being present before one is born again. It is through this grace that humans are then able to choose good and ultimately by faith to accept God’s saving grace.

According to Green, “the Apostle Paul’s explanation of sin will seem somewhat simpler; it entered the world” (Rom 5:12), “came to life” (Rom 7:12), and “enslaving not only individuals but all of humanity.” (Rom 1:18-32; 3:23)”[5]  If sin is therefore inherent and enslaving yet we are responsible for our behaviour, then one must consider what choices do we really have? Being responsible for our status before God requires us to acknowledge sin. Paul gives warnings to the aspect of choice. We cannot chose and just accept our rebellion created in Eden, or we can choose that this event will not be our defining result. Again Green says “our actions did not introduce evil into the world. Sin arrived before we did. Its power surrounds us and draws us into itself”[6].

It is our own sin that brings the wrath of God upon us. These words of Romans chapter 2 likewise reflect the words given in the fifth doctrine. It is the disobedient willful separation of us from God that brings His wrath. While He seeks to bring us in love to repentance, He cannot tolerate sin. Adam and Eve experienced this wrath in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But all was not lost, as there was still hope. God still desires relationship with those “in His image yet sinful”. The Word of God which speaks of our sinful state, separation from God, His wrath, and the resultant link to death, also speaks of salvation through the grace of God. Romans chapter 5 testifies; “at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6).

We have seen scripturally that we are indeed made in the image of God, sinful but not without hope. The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine states; “humanity is not only disfigured by sin, but is also ready for hope.”[7] To be disfigured by sin is not to be disfigured physically. To be made in the image of God is not to be defined as in physical appearance. At a first glance, the gentleman portrayed in the move The Elephant Man may not be viewed as being made in the image of God. People who are seen as being different even to the point of extreme will not be viewed by mankind as being godly. People desire to see God or His image through the interpretive lens of what they want to see, or what they think should be seen. Rather than seeing this man as a human being, he was viewed as a freak, a means of profit. This movie being set in the times of William Booth (late 1800’s) was an economy of hardships, exploitations of the poor and the wretched, and this disfigured man became a freak of sorts put on public display for profit. A lesson in dignity and pride was portrayed through the unfortunate incident of this man born with a disease called neurofibromatosis. A Biblical time’s response from someone could very well have been “who sinned that this man was born this way?”

A relevant turning point for this disfigured man’s rescuer, a doctor with a good heart, was when the doctor internalized that now he himself was placing this man on display. His justified reasons for doing so were in the name of science. The whole point of this movie’s correlation to Imago Dei is that the inward image of the disfigured man was what counted most. His heart and character was not reflective of the appearance he was viewed and judged with. One aspect of the image of God is our internal character and heart, reflecting or mirroring God’s character and heart. A copy or counterpart to reflect God’s glory as was stated earlier. We too can be lured away by external forces to lose sight that we are created in God’s image and loved. A revelation that this disfigured man finally realized and accepted.

It is in the personal reflection of this movie as it relates to being made in the image of God yet sinful, that inward motives are considered. Do we care for best the ones who we feel fit our perception of the image of God? It is in the study and reflection of being made in His image yet sinful that a theological understanding has developed. Scripture has given both the evidence of created in His image and yet with an inherited nature and a propensity to sin. We reflect and mirror God and desperately need a Saviour.  The gospel is of hope, from the despair of sin to the triumph of grace. In our mission we are called to invite one and all to this relationship with God.

For footnotes and bibliography, click here.

Cadet Randy Holden, along with his wife Anne, is a part of the Proclaimers of the Resurrection session.  Randy’s quiet demeanor hides an extremely funny, extremely dry sense of humour.  We also hear he has some type of superhero alter-ego?  True?