Previously we looked at Genesis 1 and the creation of the earthling. I suggested that to properly understand the points Moses was trying to make we needed to understand some of the other creation myths around at that time because the true impact that Genesis 1 has on us is seen in where it radically departs from other creation stories. The big takeaway from Genesis 1 is an explanation of what it means to be human. To be human is to be created in the image of God. Every single person, no matter gender, socio-economic background, or even belief system, is created in God’s image. This then calls us to two actions.
First, we are called to act in accordance to who God is. If we are made in his image, which means that we are created to represent him on the earth, which is his temple, then we are called to act in ways that line up with who he is. In fact, to truly have a sense of fulfilling our purpose this is how we need to act. We cannot be a portrait of God if we look nothing like him.
Second, because everyone is created in the image of God it means that we have to treat every person as if we are interacting with God. To treat people with disrespect is to treat God with disrespect. To dehumanize people is to desecrate God himself. However I think we have to be careful of oversimplifying this idea. In order for us to actually understand how we are to treat the people around us we have to first have a proper understanding of God’s character and how he interacts and treats those made in his image. This then gets into the issue of ethics and what are our ethics are based on. For the Christian, our ethics should be based on the character of God. So for us to act ethically means we should act in the same way that God would act if he were put into that situation.
I’ve often heard it said that people should have the freedom to act as they like as long as it doesn’t hurt others. While this advice can sound good it is difficult to put it into practice. For instance, who determines what it means to hurt someone else? I can give a real life example of this dilemma from my family. I have four kids and it is not uncommon for child 1 to want to play with child 2 only to have child 2 say “no, I don’t want to play.” This results in child 1 getting hurt feelings and usually getting mad. The question in this situation is what is the ethical thing to do. Child 1 has been hurt, does this mean that child 2 should have played with child 1 even though she didn’t want to? However, if child 2 was coerced into playing with child 1, whether by feeling guilted or even just obligation, this would result in child 2 then having hurt feelings. So either way this situation plays out someone is going to end up being hurt. While this situation is pretty simple and inconsequential in the scheme of things it does point to the issue that can arise if we try to base our ethics on doing what we want as long as it doesn’t hurt others.
So as Christians our ethics cannot be based on doing no harm, or even some undefined notion of “loving others.” Rather, the way we live needs to be based on who God is and how he acts because that is whose image we are created in. This is no easy thing as there is no set of rules that we can blindly follow. Rather, it involves us constantly getting to know the character of God better. This involves reading the Bible while asking the question, “what does this say about God’s character?” and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is the one advantage that Christians have. By God giving us his Spirit we have God dwelling within us helping form us into his character so that we can live that out (John 14:16-17).
So in the end we see that the two actions required because we are made in the image of God are actually intrically related. We are called to represent God accurately so that when others see us they see a picture of who God is. We are also called to interact with others as if we are interacting with God because they are also made in his image. But the only way that we can do that properly is to act in the same manner as God acts. There are no easy answers or decisions to make in how we are to act in different situations but the more we can understand who God is, and the more we can follow the promptings of the Spirit, the better able we are to represent God in this world.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.