When we were kids, we had this kind of instinctive question: “What is that for?” We’d walk into the shed, or the kitchen, or the store and just point and ask. Eventually we’d ask that question from the shower, and then things got awkward. But it’s a great question. We want to know what a thing is for, what it’s supposed to do, how it is supposed to be used. We call this design: “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”
We want to know this design because we recognize that if we don’t understand what something if for, things can go bad quickly. We don't walk into the pharmacy when we are sick and just pull something off the shelf and hope it works. We need to know what it is designed to do so that we can know what it is intended to accomplish, and how we can effectively use it for that purpose.
There’s a difference between what we can do with something and what we should do with something. When we use them within the design, they flourish; when we use them outside of the design, they fall apart.
- I can use a hammer to put screws into my deck, but that will break the screws, because they were not made to be hammered.
- I can use my hammer as a poker in a fireplace, but it will hurt the hammer, because it’s not made to stir hot coals.
- I can use a hammer on nails, and all is well.
The stakes are higher, of course. I should use my lungs to inhale oxygen; I can use my lungs to inhale lots of other things. I should use my teeth to chew food; I can tear off bottle caps or pull a train with a rope. I should use my words to speak truth and bring life; I can lie and leave devastation behind me if I so choose.
It is tremendously important to figure out the purpose or intention of something. Why is it like it is? What did the designer intend? What is it made to do, not just what can I do with it? And specifically in this series, we are going to ask the question, “What is the purpose, planning or intent that exists in us, not just as humans but as men and women?” I contend that we were made in God’s image, designed to flourish as men and women in complementary community for the glory of God. To make this case, I will begin by focusing on what it means to be made in the image of God.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
The claim of Genesis One is that we live in a universe that was created purposefully. A personal, infinite, eternal, just, loving, holy God designed this universe and everything in it to reflect his glory, greatness, beauty, power, intelligence, love, wisdom, justice, mercy… the list goes on. The universe is God’s artistic masterpiece, and we are part of it. A purposeful, creative God created humanity purposefully and creatively as well.
We are the “imago dei” designed in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). In the Ancient Near East, rulers would put up statues or icons in their territory so there would be an image representing the presence of that ruler. That’s the language the Bible uses to describe us. In all of creation, we are unique. As humans, we are the icons of God in the world. We are designed to represent God. There are at least two important implications we need to address.
First, we are image bearers, not animals.
In 2005, the London Zoo put on an exhibit of people. "Warning: Humans in their Natural Environment" read the sign at the entrance to the exhibit. Some were joking they should start a breeding program. Others were disappointed they wore swimsuits under their fig leaves. Several children could be heard asking, "Why are there people in there?" London Zoo spokeswoman Polly Wills says that's exactly the question the zoo wants to answer. "Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals ... teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate," Wills said. "We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man's place in the planet's ecosystem," a London Zoo spokesman said. One participant added, “It kind of reminds us we aren’t that special.”
But there were differences. “While their neighbors might enjoy bananas and a good scratch, these eight have divided interests, from a chemist hoping to raise awareness about apes to a self-described actor/model and fitness enthusiast. For others, the aping around is just another forum for rampant exhibitionism and self-promotion.…[they have] board games, music…allowed to go home each night.” (“Crowds Go Ape Over Human Zoo Exhibit,” nbcnews.com).
The idea that we are image bearers is increasingly a counter-cultural message. I hear stories all the time about how animals do certain things and so we should too. “Did you know swans mate for life?” Yes, and rabbits don’t. “Did you know young male elephants will go rogue when adult male elephants are absent?” Yes, and marmoset fathers basically steal the baby from the moment it’s born and let it interact with its mom as little as possible. “Have you seen the variety of sexual behavior in animals, or noticed that some of them lay down their life for their young, or that others eat their young?”
i saw that on Animal Planet. It was all very entertaining. But it's always an insufficient means of exploring human nature because we have been designed as far more than mere animals. Why does this matter? Because ideas have consequences. We tend to act on things we believe are true. If you listen to the message our culture sends us, you would think we are, in fact, just a high order animal. Here's just a small sample of what you hear when you go the gym or walk down the street:
- “You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” (The Bloodhound Gang)
- “Baby, I'm preying on you tonight, hunt you down eat you alive. Just like animals, animals, like animals.” (Maroon 5)
- “No, we're never gonna quit, Ain't nothing wrong with it. Just acting like we're animals. No, no matter where we go,'Cause everybody knows, we're just a couple animals.” (Nickelback)
- In a song about wanting to have sex with both underaged and married women, Toma says, “Let me see you act like an animal straight out the cage…”
- When Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke made headlines last year for doing a dance during an award ceremony that was astonishingly graphic, Robin Thicke sang this line: “But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature.”
In sharp contrast, Christianity insists that we aren’t animals. We have been designed differently. There is a purpose, planning and intention to us that is not found anywhere else in creation. That’s why we can even have a discussion about how God has not only designed the world, but designed us. The Bible presents a clear break between mankind - as the only part of Creation bearing the image of God in body, soul and spirit - and the rest of the animal kingdom.
- Artistic Awareness. We recognize beauty as beauty. We create for the sake of enjoyment. We take long walks on the beach because it’s soothing. We climb mountains because they are there. We tell stories with art, we are profoundly moved by music. We write fiction that tells us truth.
- Conscious Identity. We have a sense of self, an identity that is formed throughout the course of our life. We ask questions like, “What is the purpose in life?”
- Rationality. We study, predict, experiment. We reason our ways through dilemmas. We make a distinction between truth and non-truth.
- Abstract Thinking. We try to identify our emotions. We say things like, “Yeah, but what if we did it this way. I wonder what would happen? We brainstorm. We have Think Tanks.
- Moral Nature. We have the capacity to make moral judgments and be held morally responsible. When we were in Gulf Shores, we went to a small zoo. For $10, you could sit in an enclosure with five lemurs and play with them. One of them peed on me. Now, had that been another guest, there would have been some consequences. But it was a lemur. A furry monkey pees wherever it wants, and it’s really cute the whole time. No on judged him; no one puts him in time out.
- Stewardship. We can bring order from chaos. We have the ability to come up with a plan on how to bring peace to hostile situations. We can step into nature and purposefully alter it – for better or worse.
- Relationships. Our relational capacity is different from an animal’s relational capacity. We not only experience empathy, kindness, altruism, fellowship, transparency and honesty, we can choose to do that or not.
- Spiritual Communion with God (the desire and ability). Animals don’t worship. They don’t have a “God-shaped hole” in their heart. God has placed something is us that seeks him and connects with Him. In addition, we are recipients of Christ’s salvation and love. The rest of the created world will benefit when one day God’s renewal of all of creation through Christ finally arrives, but when Christ died for the ungodly, he was not dying for animals (though in the end, they will benefit from a renewed world).
While humans and animals both have mind, will and emotions - and animals have significant value and worth of their own - the similarities are superficial, not deep. We share a common creator; it should be no surprise that we see common threads. But only humanity has a free will with which to override instinct, an immortal soul that Christ died to redeem, a longing for transcendence, a moral sense and duty, and a spirit to experience God and form a relationship with him.
Second, we are image bearers of God, not our culture.
This has to do more with our identity of Christians than simply our identity as people.The ways in which our culture determines what it means to be a real men or a real women is terribly flawed.
You are not a man because you are an athlete, or you have money, or you have a gorgeous wife hanging on your arm, or you like to climb mountains, or whatever other currently fashionable trend is used to measure manliness. The rugged mountain man look is coming back. I guess the metrosexual look got old. Give it a year or two and “real men” will look entirely different.
You are not a woman because you look like whatever type of model is currently popular, or you know how to keep up with fashion, or you can cook great meals or juggle a job and a family or you have men falling all over themselves to get to you or whatever other stereotype is currently putting pressure on you.
We bear God’s image, not Madison Avenues’. Men’s Health and Maxim are not the standard bearers of what it means to be a man. Vogue and Redbook and the O Network are not the measure of what it means to be a woman. As Christians, we believe that, “We are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Why does this matter? Because ideas have consequences. We need to know for what purpose or intention God created us, and we need to know more specifically for what purpose or intent God created men and women, and more specifically as followers of Christ. Here’s the crucial idea Christianity has about people: We are unique, stamped with the purpose plan and design that comes from bearing the image of God. And because of that, it’s important that we make sure we understand how God designed us so we can see how our Creator has ordered life so that it is for our good and His glory.
PART TWO: MADE TO FLOURISH
PART TWO: MADE TO FLOURISH