Made in the Image of God
by Jack Wald | September 22nd, 2002

Genesis 1:26-27

As I was working on this sermon and typing into the header of my document the title, Made in the Image of God, a fly landed on my desk and as I picked up the fly swatter I said, “You however were not,” and part of God’s creation ceased to exist.

What does it mean to be made in the Image of God? My experience with the fly on my desk actually says quite a lot about what it means but we will get to that later.

What does it mean to be made in the Image of God? First, whatever it means, we begin with God. It frustrates me that I cannot find a way to talk about how great God is. Every word I say or type into my computer seems inadequate. I have a sense of the greatness of God that seems impossible to express. God is so much greater than we can possibly comprehend.

People find some things about Christianity hard to believe. A virgin birth announced by angels in the sky, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection of Christ. But what is really far more amazing and what should be far more difficult to believe is that God who pre-existed his creation is aware of us and loves us. That God in the flesh had miraculous events surrounding him should be easy to believe. What is unbelievable is that God was born as a man and that God suffered and died.

What is really astounding about this phrase, made in the image of God, is that we have the exalted position of being made in the image of God, whatever that phrase means.

In all of creation, humans are made in the image of God. Not cats (no matter how much some people worship them), not dogs, not dolphins, not flowers, not stars. We are made in the image of God.

When the writer of the first story in Genesis wrote about creation, he mentioned the creation of some pretty incredible things: sun, moon and stars; sea creatures, birds, plants and animals and the story says six times, “and God saw that it was good.”

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God created and he saw it was good and then the writer comes to the creation of man and it seems as if he cannot control his excitement. He moves toward the crescendo of his poem and it is almost as though he is so excited he cannot help but stutter and says three times that we have been created in the image of God.
God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them
and the cymbals crash, the brass instruments blare in the high point, the climax of this poem of creation.

It is clear that the writer of Genesis wants to make the point that something very special happened when man was created. Something happened that distinguishes us from the rest of creation. Whatever it means to be created in the image of God, it is what makes us unique in all of God’s creation.

We all have a need to be special. We want to be noticed, appreciated, valued. In the hundred billion galaxies with millions to trillions of stars in each one, you who live on a planet orbiting just one of these stars, alone in all of God’s creation, you were created in the image of the creator. Let that fact alone give you a sense of worth. You are special because you are created in the image of your creator.

I don’t need to remind you that this pre-existing God became man and died on the cross for you to make you feel special. Just the fact that you have been created in the image of this God should be enough to give you a sense of worth.

Now again, I ask the question: what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Although plants and animals were created to reproduce according to their kind, something more than that is meant in Genesis when it comes to man. The seed of a plant grows to look like the plant it came from. Puppies become dogs and tadpoles become frogs. This is not what Genesis means when it says we are created in the image of God. God does not have arms and legs and eyebrows and teeth.

What it means to be created in the image of God is that first of all, we are created with the capacity to become like God. Secondly, being made in the image of God gives us dignity. And thirdly, being made in the image of God gives us certain responsibilities.

First, we have been given the capacity to become like God. Notice I said we have the capacity to become like God, not become God. The Mormons believe that God was once a man like we are and that we can one day become God in another world. Eastern religions believe we can become part of the consciousness of God who is this consciousness.

Christians believe that God is separate from his creation and will always be separate from his creation. We do not have the capacity to become God but we can become like God.

When new parents present their baby, they may say something like, “Doesn’t she look just like her mother?” To be honest, babies all look more or less alike to me. If this was not the case, why do they put identification bracelets on newborns in the hospital?

But as the child grows, a physical resemblance may become more obvious. This is more true for some of us than others. In a couple months you will have the opportunity to meet my father. When you do, you will see some physical resemblance but not a lot. Actually, I have a cousin who looks a lot more like my father than I do.

But our resemblance to our parents is more than physical characteristics. As we age we become more and more like our parents, even sometimes in ways we wish we wouldn’t. I have inherited my father’s independence, his ability and preference to look at things from the other side, his prejudices. Adopted children who do not share the same genetics will resemble their parents in the way they dress and think and act.

When we get married, we look consciously or unconsciously to our parents for how to be a husband and father or wife and mother. Because of their influence on us, we become like them.

It is in this sense that we can become like God. We become shaped by God because of our relationship with him.

As Genesis talks about this, it was a natural process that became disrupted at the fall. When sin entered our world, we did not lose our capacity to become like God, but the process was disrupted.

Becoming like God was no longer a natural process and we drifted away from God. The stories in Genesis that follow illustrate this. Cain and Abel and their story of jealousy and murder, lust for power and sex in Sodom and Gomorrah, rape and revenge in the family of Jacob, family betrayal in Joseph. The fallen world is not a pretty picture and what we read in the papers today does not seem all that much different from what we read in Genesis.

The good news for us is that when Christ came, our capacity to become like God was renewed. And now, when we become adopted children of God and are grafted into the vine who is Christ, we begin a process of being made more and more in the image of God. with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

When we read in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit or read the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we read about a process which leads us to become more like God.

You have been created in the image of God and because of your relationship with Christ, you have the capacity to become like God and with the help of the Holy Spirit you are becoming more like God. Be encouraged by that fact.

We are distinguished from all of God’s creation because we have the capacity to become like God. Secondly, being made in the image of God confers upon us a dignity.

Let’s take a look at dignity. Why is it OK for me to pick up a fly swatter, kill a fly and use it as an introduction to a sermon on Sunday? Why is it OK for me to pick a carrot up out of the ground, peel it, chop it up with a knife, cook it and eat it? Why is it OK for me to kill a cow or sheep, chop it up into various kinds of roasts and steaks or chops, grind it up into hamburger, grill it and eat it? Why is it not OK to do any of these things with a human being?

Why is it OK for me to pick out a particular bull and mate it with a particular cow so I can make a stronger, meatier, or better milk-producing cow but it is not OK for me to do that with a man and a woman?

Why is it OK for me to sell a cow or sheep or horse or mule to someone else but it is not OK for me to do that with another human being?

The reason we don’t eat humans and we don’t buy and sell and breed humans is because humans are made in the image of God. Humans have a dignity that comes from being made in the image of God.

In our history, humans have been treated as animals. Unfortunately, humans still in our present day treat other humans as animals. Cannibalism is rare, but slavery is not and brutality is not.

Because humans have dignity that comes from being made in the image of God, we need to treat each other with respect and dignity.

If you are an employer or a boss, the people who work for you need to be treated with respect and dignity. It is not OK for you to treat them as tools that can easily be replaced. As an employer, I had at times to fire people because their performance or lack of it was hurting the company and they would not change their ways. But to fire someone should never be an easy thing to do.

My business involved using chemicals to make ultra-violet curable printing inks and there were some materials that made a great product but were dangerous to use. Because people have a dignity that comes from being made in the image of God, it is not OK to knowingly expose those who work for you to use products that are destructive to their health.

If you have a maid or a gardener, that person is made in the image of God and therefore needs to be treated with respect. I have seen people treat those who work for them as if they did not exist. In this world you may have more money than someone else, but this gives you no right to treat with disrespect or indifference someone who has been created in God’s image.

Because we have dignity, it makes a difference how we treat people who are sick. A sick person may not be able to contribute to society and in fact they may drain the resources of the community. But sick people, as well as healthy people have been created in the image of God and need to be cared for and loved and treated with respect and dignity because they are made in the image of God.

A physically or mentally handicapped person needs to be treated with respect and dignity because they have been made in the image of God and have the capacity (even if it is limited) to become more like God.

The dignity that has been given to us makes a difference in how we treat those who are poverty-stricken. Poor people as well as rich people have been made in the image of God and need to be treated with respect and dignity. You don’t have to give money to a beggar but it is wrong to treat any other person, including a beggar, with disrespect.

One of the cruelest abuses of power and privilege occurs when those who are not able to defend themselves are used and abused by those with power and privilege. Being made in the image of God demands that we treat others with respect.

Because we are created in the image of God we have dignity which leads to respect for the sanctity of life. We can kill plants and animals and we do it all the time. Even vegetarians boil water which kills millions of tiny animals. But the killing of someone made in the image of God is a very serious matter.

We may disagree in this congregation about the issue of abortion. But for those who fight to preserve the life of an unborn child and for those who fight for the right of a woman to decide what should be done with the unborn child within her, there should be at least this common ground. We are made in the image of God and therefore the life of the mother is sacred as is the child who is within her.

The right to choose is a right that is ours because we have dignity that comes from being made in the image of God. The right to life is the result of the dignity that has been conferred upon us by being made in the image of God.

What do you do when a woman is raped and becomes pregnant? People will debate this question back and forth and the answer is not an easy one. This is such a hard question because there is a genuine conflict between the life of the mother and the life of the child. But let me propose that some cases are very clear.

When a child is aborted because having a child will be inconvenient, the sanctity of life is being violated. A human made in the image of God is discarded for the sake of convenience?

When abortion is used as a form of birth control, we have lost respect for the sanctity of life.

When a child is aborted because a boy is wanted rather than a girl. The sanctity of life is being violated.

If those who fight for the right of a woman to choose and those who fight to protect the life of an unborn child could simply agree that the life of the mother and the life of the child should not be treated casually, there would be a lot more agreement and a lot less anger.

I had a horse and pony when I was growing up. When our horse became lame, the veterinarian came out and shot it. I have gone to the vet with two dogs who were family pets and held them in my arms while the vet gave them a shot that killed them. It was a mercy to have them killed. The horse was in great pain as were the dogs.

But what we do to animals we do not do to humans because humans are made in the image of God. When an animal suffers, there is no development of faith or growth of character. There is no reason not to put the animal out of its misery. But being made in the image of God distinguishes us from animals. Suffering has redemptive value for humans. God can use suffering to help us grow in faith and develop our character.

It may be very difficult for the one who is suffering and for those who love the person who is suffering, but because we are made in the image of God, life is sacred and we do not “put a person out of their misery” as we do with animals.

I don’t know what to say about capital punishment. Later on in Genesis after the flood God makes a Covenant with Noah and these instructions are given:

Genesis 9
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.  5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

In this passage there is a basis for capital punishment. If I kill another person, my life will be required. The debate from Scripture is very complicated and I do not mean to stake out a position on this. But what is interesting is the reason why this passage says the penalty of murder is death. The reason given is: for in the image of God has God made man.

I believe that we need to be held accountable for our actions and if I kill someone, I must be willing to pay the price for my action. But on the other hand, each person is made in the image of God and to kill any person is a very serious matter.

So I waver and am not opposed to capital punishment but cannot say I am in favor of it either.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, hold as very precious this truth, that each human has been made in the image of God and therefore his or her life is sacred.

I am not a pacifist and believe that sometimes force is necessary to work for justice. But it is also clear to me that as I have read about those who have fought in wars, killing another person destroys a part of our own humanity.

A pilot who drops a bomb is distanced from the act of killing another person. A person who fires a missile is distanced from the destruction of another human life. These people, from what I have read, face little trauma after a war. My father was in the Navy in WWII and came out of the war with no trauma even though missiles he fired may have killed people.

But those who were in hand-to-hand combat are the ones who have struggled when they returned to their home country. Killing another person destroys part of our own humanity.

This is the thesis of a book and movie titled The Thin Red Line. This book takes place in WWII in the Pacific and the central character has a pure and soaring thirst for beauty and truth which exists even in the lull between assaults on a hill. In the end he is surrounded by the enemy and chooses to end his life by refusing to surrender.

I am not a pacifist but killing another person, even in war, carries with it a price.

We need to treat each other with respect and we need to treat ourselves with respect. Thirty years ago when I was an exchange student in Germany, I sat in a bar and watched a man who casually puffed on his cigarette, knocked off the ashes and burned a hole in the skin of his arm. Along his arm I could see old scars, new scars and fresh open wounds. It didn’t take a psychiatrist to see that this man was ill.

We know when someone has mental problems when we see them abuse their own body. It is a sign of mental and emotional well-being when someone treats their own body with respect.

To eat more than you need is an abuse of yourself. The abuse of drugs and alcohol destroys who God made you to be.

When you realize who you are, a man or woman made in the image of God, you begin to treat yourself with dignity and respect. You exercise and eat healthily not because you want to live forever but because you respect yourself as someone made in the image of God.

I’m not going to talk about responsibility because in a few weeks, Greg will be preaching on our responsibility to be stewards of this world. But let me say simply that being made in the image of God means that we have been given the responsibility of acting as God’s agents on earth. The reason we are to care for our environment is because we have been made in the image of God.

You are God’s creation.

But you are more than that, you have been made in the image of God, your creator. This makes you special and it makes all humans special.

Treat yourself with respect and treat those with whom you associate with respect because we are all made in the image of God.