The Big Picture -
A Holy Reflection
Genesis 1: 26-31; 11: 1-9
John 17: 15-26
CALVIN CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH
Last week we spent some time together in space. We took an Apollo 17 view of the world, trying to understand how God sees us. What’s His view of the world? How does that affect our view of the world?
It came as the second in our series on Christian worldview.
We began two weeks ago, saying that when you talk about what matters most, what is of value and what is not, where our priorities lie and what is disposable -
what we’re talking about is Worldview
the basic collection of attitudes, values, and approaches that directs what the eye sees how the heart responds, and what the mind processes.
Worldview is there,shaping and directing absolutely everything.
Then, with Bible in hand, staring from space back to earth, we realized just how important this creation is to its Creator.
Scripture begins on a beautiful, perfect earth.
Scripture ends on a beautiful, perfect earth.
In between Scripture is the history of redeeming this earth.
Today we’re going to zoom in on that picture.
We want to focus on those who inhabit the earth - humanity specifically.
Is there something special about how God views us?
How does that, in the context of Worldview, affect how we view each other?
The "launching pad" for our discussion is, like last week, right at the beginning of the Bible -
Genesis 1: 26-31
Holy God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in a Trinity conference make a decision: "Let us make man in our image...."
And they did - male and female, in the image of God.
Little wee beings,
on a tiny blue planet.
Little wee beings,
- like -
And that is a central part of how we view this world and our role in it.
It helps, as we seek to appreciate this point, just what is meant by "image of God." I suppose we could speculate all we want, or superimpose our own opinions on the thing - and do it till the proverbial cows came home.
But let’s begin by having a peek back at what people would have understood by such a phrase in the days when Genesis was put to writing.
One of the things that is found from time to time in explorations around the sites of ancient civilizations are statues of the kings who reigned in those days, images of the king. These were erected by the ancient rulers in the various corners of their kingdoms to make the statement that they were in charge there. When a person saw the image they saw, through that image, a picture of the King and his power and his working.
When God guided Moses to write Genesis, this is the thought he wished to convey to the people --
that the King of the Cosmos placed images, likenesses, of Himself in the outposts of his empire
to represent Him,
to make the statement for all to hear that He is in charge.
Male and female, flesh and blood images,
living, thinking, responsible and creative images,
who were given the mandate of actually doing some of the work of the King on his behalf.
Humanity was made, then, as royalty.
That’s why Luke 3 calls Adam "the son of God".
They were immortal spiritual and physical beings whose actions differed from the actions of dogs because they, unlike the dogs, were accountable to the King for them.
Humanity carries, in their image bearing, ruling responsibility.
We are responsible for how we live in Creation, and what we do with it.
We are responsible to creatively develop it, and to carefully preserve it.
We are responsible for the outcome; no copping out or shirking of this duty.
That’s the first part.
But not the only one. In addition to the responsibility of ruling, there is the responsibility of relationship.
God made multiple image bearers, not just one. And the first act He performed was to bring those image bearers together into covenant relationship with each other. Genesis 2 tells us of Adam and Eve.
The Gospel of John narrates the prayer of Jesus, which amplifies what Genesis first portrays. In it Jesus clearly shows that we are like God, we represent God to the world by the way that we can live in unity as a larger community -
joined together as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are joined together.
Let’s read that together -
JOHN 17: 15-26
That, too, is part of a Christian way of viewing the world and life in it.
No Christian worth their salt can buy into that very cheap and very common idea that "I’ll do what I need and want to do and you go out and do what you need and want to do."
That idea of social liberalism runs absolutely counter to the teachings of God’s Word. If you make a habit of operating your life by that sort of individualistic ideal, you are not properly representing your Creator’s values, priorities, goals and longings to the world.
You are, then, living your own image - fashioned after self.
Know what the word for that is?
I know it’s not easy.
I know it doesn’t always work out the way we expect.
And I know that often we’re faced with trends and issues that aren’t exactly going our way or of our liking.
But living together is God’s way.
And ultimately, living in relational responsibility is the eternal way.
End of story.
And finally, Regal responsibility.
There’s an account in the Bible of a group of people who carry out ruling and relationship stuff. But their life and actions are the furthest thing from having any sense of God-imaging about them. Read it with me:
GENESIS 11: 1-9
At Babel there was ruling.
At Babel there was relationship.
But at Babel the people forgot that they were mere image bearers. They could only reflect glory, as the moon only reflects the light of the sun.
No sun, dark moon.
No God, dark living.
And the Lord dismantled the Babel project.
Image bearers are responsible to keep pointing to, and returning to the One who is the true King, who has true regal power and authority.
From the King they gain their authority.
From the King they gain their value.
From the King they gain their future.
And there’s the rub for all of us this morning.
For, you see, all of us have something of Babel in us.
All of us have a stubborn streak, a tarnished spot, a way in which
- somehow deep to our core -
we, too, have fallen.
We, too, have this maddening tendency to follow our own plan rather than that of the King.
We are ALL part of the great nobility in ruins.
The sin of self-directed ways, rather than God-directed ways, is ours.
And that sin separates us from the One who is the Source of our life, the Giver of our mandate, and the One in whom the true glory of our image rests.
So thanks be to God that as we think of humanity being made in the image of God, we can also recall God coming in the image of humanity.
We can turn to Christ, "who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8).
I watched an old Jacques Cousteau documentary some time ago. It featured the exploration of an ancient vessel, filled with treasure, lost at sea some 2000 years ago. In the process of discovery the divers came across a bronze statue of an athlete. Carefully it was raised to the surface where the mud and filth were cleaned off.
The corroded layers were scraped away and what seemed at first to be a worthless lump of sea sediment now began to gleam with some of its original beauty. Oh, it wasn’t what it used to be. One of the arms is missing, and corrosion has pitted the surface.
But hints of its former magnificence began to reappear.
So it is with humanity in the image of God. Jesus rescues us, as it were, from the silt and corrosion and debris in the sea-covered shipwreck of sin. He raises us to the surface and hands us to the Spirit who begins the process of chipping away the corrosion and the filth, allowing people to gleam with some of their original beauty.
One of the teaching documents from our church, the "Belgic Confession", in article 14 asks
"who may presume to boast that he of himself can do any good....
who will glory in his own will....
who can speak of his knowledge?"
And it responds with two biting quotes from the Word of God.
One: "Apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn 15.5)
In other words, we are completely helpless to image God in the way He meant us to. We are the statues lost beneath the sea.
And then the second quote:
"God works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil 2.13)
In other words, God doesn’t leave us mired there. Like a relentless hunting diver he searches until he finds us, rescues us, and begins the process of restoring us, a process that continues throughout our lives and will be completed on the day we stand before his throne of judgement.
Jesus left, as it were, the safety of the boat, stripped himself naked of all his heavenly power and glory and plunged into the murky water of human life, becoming one with us to rescue us. And because of His completed work, and because of the inner, ongoing presence of His Holy Spirit, St. Paul can write:
"we... are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Cor 3.18
Renewed in the Image of God!
So we can see each other with new importance.
So we can see what we do with new importance.
We can face the tasks of life - of caring for creation, exploring science and the arts and social policy - with a heightened sense of importance.
We can see it as Christian service, as ministry for Jesus.
And we remember that living in a world teeming with human beings is a serious matter. We are not dealing with temporary, inconsequential beings, but with valuable immortals, immortals who one day will have to give an account of their life to the King who made them to image him.
Even though the image of God is shattered there is still an inherent dignity in being human. Every single man, woman, boy and girl wears a crown and must be treated accordingly. To do otherwise, whether it is through overt murder, or when we murder through racism, class structure, exploitation, etc we are affronting both the person and the Maker.
When we work for true justice and social equality and care among people then, as the Old Testament prophets show time and again, we are doing good not only to the people, but to their King and Maker whom they image.
"In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me" said Jesus.
So here’s the parting thought:
Are the thoughts and hopes and dreams I have ones that are becoming of a royal image-bearer, a rescued treasure?
Do the works I do allow people to see and imagine a little more clearly the workings of the image-maker?
Or am I, while willing and working, behaving like some strange creature that -
- having been rescued from a slimy pool of certain death
by a heroic diver -
keeps trying to dive back into the murky depths?