(For the first 6 sections of this essay read the three previous posts, beginning in December 2011.)
7. Two Final, Unrelated questions
Two questions were raised as a result of the preceding study. Here are brief responses.
If we owe respect and kindness to every human being, wouldn’t it be respectful and kind to administer a fatal drug to someone who is enduring intense suffering from a terminal illness? Why should I treat my suffering dog with more compassion than I treat a suffering human being?
The answer is simple. God has given us the right to take an animal’s life for food (Genesis 9:3). Therefore, while animals are important to God (Proverbs 12:10), their lives are not sacred.
However, God has reserved to Himself the right to determine the length of our days.
Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:5-6)
See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand (Deuteronomy 32:39).
Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass (Job 14:5).
Therefore, the issue is greater than our opinion of the most compassionate way of helping a suffering person. We are obligated to obey God and to leave in His hands the lives of His image bearers. God has not chosen to end our lives before we suffer, and while this may seem unkind or cruel to us, we trust His goodness and His wisdom. The obvious exception to leaving death in God’s hands is when the state executes a murderer in obedience to God’s command. (See also Romans 12:17-13:4.)
B. How can we be images of God if God forbids images of Himself?
This question would not occur to people in most churches today because the meaning of the second commandment has been largely forgotten.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).
Many people mistakenly think that the commandment only refers to images of false gods. Moses clarifies this misconception in a sermon to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land.
So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female (Deuteronomy 4:15-16).
The golden calf Israel made in the wilderness was not an image of a false God. It was an image of Yahweh because the calf was an image of the God who brought them out of Egypt, and when it was set up, the people celebrated a feast to Yahweh (Exodus 32:4-5). When Moses came down Mount Sinai and saw what they had done, he was so furious that he shattered the two tablets of the law that God had cut out of stone and engraved with His own hand.
Some argue that after God took on a human body and soul in the incarnation, it became legitimate to make images of Christ. However, the New Testament knows nothing of this, and the apostle Paul specifically condemned images made in the form of man (Romans 1:22-23). Why didn’t he write, “Put some clothes on that naked image of your god and call it Jesus”?
So if God is hostile to images of Himself, why did He make us in His own image and likeness? I don’t have an inclination to go into the all reasons for God’s rejection of images, but here is one that helps to answer the current question.
But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell;7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat (Psalm 115:3-7).
God cannot be represented by anything that is dead. He is so full of life and power that any non-living image makes a mockery of Him. When God made human beings in His image, He guarded against false worship by making all of us in His image. He did not set up one particularly fine specimen of humanity and say, “This one is in My likeness.” A poor, illiterate farmer in rags is no less a bearer of God’s image and no less worthy of honor than a wealthy, well-educated corporate executive. (Perhaps those of us who are tempted to worship our favorite movie stars, athletes or musicians ought to repent and kiss the feet of a few beggars.)