I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Does Human Life Have Value to God (2)

(For part 1 of this essay, go to the blog below this one. I have a couple of odds and ends to add to the subject--perhaps this next week.)

3.      When do human beings bear the image of God?

Our two previous questions naturally focused on the origin of our individual souls and our personhood. I think it is helpful to view the image of God from a Christ-centered perspective because Christ is the original image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Human beings are images of God only in a secondary sense (1 Corinthians 11:7). More frequently, human beings are said to be in the image of God or according to the image of God. So, perhaps it is best to call us God’s image bearers rather than God’s images. At any rate, we bear the image of God as we are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). We are images of the Image. When is that true of us?

A.     God’s children will bear God’s image fully and finally at the resurrection.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wraps up his lengthy discussion of Christ’s resurrection and ours by saying,
The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (vv. 47-49).

Similarly, the apostle John says,
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

This full and final imaging is what God was aiming at when He created Adam and Eve.

B.     Adam and Eve bore God’s image partially, yet truly at creation.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26-27).

When God made our first parents, He pronounced them, along with the rest of creation very good (v. 31). They were very good, but not finished because they did not bear the image of God as completely as redeemed men and women will.

C.      Human beings now bear God’s image brokenly and progressively.

After the flood, God said to Noah, “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). This would make no sense if the image of God had been completely lost at the fall.

The likeness to God, which was damaged at the fall, is being progressively renewed in those who have become God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ.
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:9-10).

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So all human beings bear God’s image in some measure; the image is being renewed (perhaps think of polishing a silver or brass metal mirror) by the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s born-again children.

4.      What aspects of our humanity does the image of God encompass?

If we had confined our meditation on the image of God to creation and to our progressive renewal by the Spirit, we might have concluded that our likeness to God only included the spiritual aspect of our humanity. After all, the invisible God does not have a body. Starting with Christ and the resurrection, however, leads us to a different conclusion. Not only our souls, but also our bodies will conformed to the image of Christ.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

On the one hand, Scripture teaches that the Son of God took on flesh and blood so that He could die for people who have bodies (Hebrews 2:14-16). On the other hand, it is equally true that God made human beings with the kind of bodies we have because the Son of God was going to take on that kind of body. The bodies God gave us are the right sort of thing to be transformed and glorified. These bodies, not some other kind, are fit to reflect the image of God, who is Jesus Christ.

You may still ask, “Well, what is the image of God?” The answer is…. I don’t know. But being image bearers enables us to know and love God, to know and love people, to create new things, to rule over the animal kingdom and ultimately to reflect the glory of God.

Being in the image of God does not mean that we do all of those things all the time or even that we do them very well. It means that we have the capacity to develop those characteristics, but their development is always imperfect and defective in this life. I have written that we have the capacity to develop these characteristics, but it would be truer to say that God is developing them. We are His workmanship.

From the womb to the tomb, God is at work fashioning His people into unique image bearers. The infant who dies before it breathes will gleam in glory with a different hue than the aged martyr or the forty-five year old retarded believer who stumbles and falls beneath the wheels of a truck. Yet all will shine. Since His children are God’s work, it is God’s prerogative to say when the earthly part of His fashioning is complete.

From this perspective, an elect Down’s syndrome infant and a believing, end-stage Alzheimer’s patient are moving toward conformity to Christ; a strong, attractive, intelligent hater of God is not.

5.      When does human life have value to God?

God values the lives of His children, from conception to the grave and beyond into glory because He is looking forward to completing glorious images of His eternal Image. If we ask when the individual human being has a soul, and only grant value when that is the case, we are left without adequate moral guidance. At the beginning and at the end of life there are situations when we are not sure. If instead we look at God’s goal for human life and recognize that God is working toward that end, then every stage of life has value to God.

God also values the lives of those who reject Him because by their creation in His image they still reflect something of His power, wisdom and love. Therefore, they also must be objects of our compassion and care, just as they are for God (Matthew 5:43-48).

When the lost are raised for the final judgment, their bodies will, no doubt reflect what their souls have become. The God whom they have rejected will strip away all remaining vestiges of His image from their bodies and souls. Only then, will they be utterly cast off and thrown into the garbage pit of the universe, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Luke 9:48).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When Does Human Life Have Value to God?

I have been teaching an adult Sunday School class on ethics, so I have been reading and reflecting on the question: When does human life have value to God? I think I have something fresh to add, but bowing to FaceBook pressure, I’ll split the essay into 2 or 3 parts. I hope you can stand the suspense.

There are, of course, some passages of Scripture that bear directly on the subject. We see God’s care for the unborn child in Job 10:8-13 and Psalm 139:13-16. Exodus 21 prescribes penalties for men who are fighting and incidentally strike a pregnant woman “so that her children come out” (v. 22). Whether this phrase describes a premature birth or a miscarriage, in either case there is a penalty. Not all instances of killing (fatal accidents, for example) received the death penalty in the Old Testament. Even the death of a slave a few days after a harsh beating was not punished because the slave was the master’s property (vv. 20-21), but the generally humane treatment required for slaves shows that God cared for them (vv. 26-27). Neither slaves nor the unborn child was regarded as sub-human.

However, abortion and end-of-life decisions are sometimes unhelpfully discussed in terms of two unanswerable questions: (1) When do we have souls? (2) When are we persons? Fortunately, there is a third question that sounds similar, but is actually quite different: When do human beings bear the image of God. This question has a clear scriptural answer, and it enables us to understand our true worth in God’s eyes.

1.      When do we have souls? There are three principle ways in which God may give us souls.

A.      Some suggest that God creates each soul directly since He is the Father of spirits (Hebrews 12:9) who gives us our spirits (Ecclesiastes 12:7). In this case, we still have the unanswered question of when God inserts our souls into our bodies. Also, the direct creation of souls leaves us wondering why our temperaments often resemble our parents so much.

B.      However, God is often does things by using intermediate agents or processes. (For example, He feeds the animals, but the carnivores still have to hunt Psalm 104:21, 27). So perhaps our souls are passed on from our parents, as Hebrews 7:9-10 may suggest. If that is the case, it seems possible that we inherit our souls at the time of conception. However, many fertilized eggs are expelled without ever being implanted in the uterus. If these all have souls and if they all go to heaven, they may constitute the majority of saved people. This is certainly possible, but it seems exceedingly strange.

C.      A third suggestion is that our souls may emerge from the physical development of our brains. At death, the soul could continue to exist apart from the body where it arose. Job says to God, “Your hands fashioned and made me,” and then he notes that he is clay or dust (Job 10:8-13; 33:4-6). Job does not say, “You made my body,” but “You made me,” apparently including the soul along with the body. If this is true, we still do not know when the developing baby has a soul.

The most we can say for certain (regardless of how God gives us souls) is that by the sixth month of pregnancy, the baby has a soul because by that time John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15, 41-44). We have even less revelation on when the soul leaves the body. Is the soul still present during the end stages of senile dementia or when an automobile accident leaves a twenty-year-old in a persistent vegetative state?

2.      When are we persons? This question may be answered in three ways, but none of them seems particularly helpful.

A.      We are persons when we have souls, but Scripture does not clearly indicate when we have souls.

B.      Perhaps we are persons when we have developed certain mental, emotional and volitional capacities. On this reckoning, the family dog has more claim to being a person than a newborn human being does.

C.      Perhaps we are persons when we have a unique, human genetic identity (in other words, at conception). If we accept this answer, then clearly we are valuable to God from that moment onward. However, to call a fertilized egg a person stretches the normal understanding of person almost beyond recognition. Another problem with this view is that genes were unknown in biblical days. Therefore, it is unlikely that the church needed to wait for modern genetics in order to comprehend our value to God. (It is helpful, however, in a modern context to insist that the developing fetus is not a blob of a woman’s tissue. He or she is a genetically unique individual.)

I have discussed souls and personhood mainly in order to show that Scripture does not give us enough information on these subjects to help us answer the question: When does human life have value to God? In my next post in a day or two, I’ll weigh in on a more fruitful approach: When do human beings bear the image of God? So stay tuned for the next exciting installment. J