January 07, 2016

Image of God

Pietà (1498-99) by Michelangelo 
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, January 7, 2016

Image of God

As we live in a culture in which mere feeling is the source of value (feelings that can change), it's important for Christians to remember that the image of God—the imago Dei—is the factual basis for human dignity.

Whether understood wholly literally or not, the biblical account of God's creation of humankind makes it clear that human dignity—our objective moral worth—is part of human nature: it's a built-in reflection of God. Therefore human worth simply is. And is huge.

According to Genesis, God created humans out of dust from the ground and God gave us "the breath of life."

According to Genesis, the various beasts and birds also have "the breath of life." Signficantly, however, humankind has such breath uniquely.

An ESV Study Bible commentator explains: "God breathes life—physical, mental, and spiritual—into the one created to bear his image...While human beings have much in common with other living beings, God gives them alone a royal and priestly status and makes them alone 'in his own image.'"

Disability advocate Joni Eareckson Tada and bioethicist Nigel Cameron add some helpful insights:

"[I]n Genesis 1 we read of God making the various 'kinds' of animals and birds and sea creatures. They reproduce 'after their kind.' The implication is that humankind is made 'after God's kind.' We are made within the confines of space and time to image—to mirror, to model—the nature of God. That decides our view of human nature. All human beings are created equal, and equally precious, in the sight of God... Every member of our species, Homo sapiens, are image bearers of God and thus reflect the dignity of God."

To drive home further the significance of the moral status of humankind, Genesis also tells us that just before humans come onto the scene, God proclaims that the creation is good (Genesis 1:25), and then immediately after humans are on the scene, God proclaims that the creation is very good (Genesis 1:31).

Although the creation contains many and various living creatures that all have worth, Genesis clearly informs us that, unlike the other creatures, humans are unique in their worth: humans are made in God's image, so humans are the moral pinnacle of the creation.

There is more. On the Christian view, as Eareckson Tada and Cameron point out, because God took on human flesh in the man Jesus, "God has twice placed his stamp on human dignity."

The biblical bottom line: Each and every member of the human species has real dignity—real intrinsic moral worth—which is non-negotiable. We do not control human dignity itself by our feelings, because each human life is sacred, period.

Thus, respect is due to every human being—whether young or old, born or unborn, abled or disabled, black or white, same-sex attracted or pedophilic, male or female or intersexed, Muslim or Hindu or Atheist or Wiccan or whatever.

This doesn't mean that all beliefs and behaviours are true and good (because they're not). But it does mean that we should show great respect to those with whom we might disagree.

Best wishes to all for 2016.

In memoriam

In recent years during my walks in Steinbach I often enjoyed short visits with a 90-plus-year-old gentleman named Alex. Alex regularly read my column "Apologia," and he encouraged me. I learned about Alex's rich life, and I quickly grew to admire him. In one of our conversations Alex mentioned he was in the second wave of troops that hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. I asked Alex how long that was after the first wave. He said six minutes. (Yes, when I think of Alex I think of the extended battle scene at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.) It also turns out that Alex helped liberate the Netherlands, where my parents were living under Nazi occupation. Alex, I salute you. And I will miss you. Rest in peace.  Obituary: Alex Tarasenko (January 23, 1921 - December 26, 2015).

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University CollegeThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

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