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  • Paul Reich

Formed, Deformed, and Reformed (Part 4)

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

We find true identity and purpose in being image bearers of God. It is only by understanding our God-given design that we come to know who we are and why we are here.

 
 

I went through my teen years in the 1970’s, experiencing the tail end of the hippy movement and the tidal waves of the Jesus people and charismatic movements. Yes, I wore bell-bottom pants and platform shoes with two-inch heels. in fact, I still have a pair of lightly used platforms that I kept as a memento of that era – and they still fit!


It was common in those years to hear of people searching for “identity,” “truth,” and the “meaning of life.” Hippies were traveling to India, getting involved in eastern religions, experimenting with LSD, and promoting love and free sex in their search for meaning. Prevalent questions of that era included, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”


Providentially, God chose to respond to this deep cry for meaning and in a sweeping move of His Spirit thousands of hippies were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. These were exciting times of coffee houses, thriving prayer meetings, and contemporary Christian music - groups like Love Song (Chuck Girard), 2nd Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Phil Keggy, Honey Tree, Randy Matthews, and a list of musicians I could give from memory that would fill an entire page.


In the summer of 1972, just before entering high school, I had a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit that resulted in a deep hunger for God’s word, a desire to know Christ intimately, and launched the trajectory of my life toward ministry. Over the next few years, the Holy Spirit swept through my entire immediate family and most of my extended family, leaving a powerful impact seen even to this day.


The questions of that era are timeless. “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” reflect the deep cry for identity and meaning experienced by every person in every generation. Sadly, some conclude that they are only a link in an evolutionary process brought about by unguided naturalistic causes. Consequently, to find meaning, some live for pleasure, some for money, some for power, and some even for humanitarian causes; but in the end, if this perspective is true, we all die, and evolutionary life carries on with no ultimate meaning.


"Who Am I?" and "Why Am I Here?"


Unless we understand that God made man in His image and what this means, we will never understand who we are and why we are here. It is only by understanding our design that we understand our purpose, and it is only in understanding our purpose that we understand our design. Both go hand in hand. Design determines function and function determines design.


A hammer is designed to drive and extract nails. A screwdriver is designed to drive and extract screws. Though you could perhaps use a hammer in the place of a screwdriver and a screwdriver in the place of a hammer, neither would be efficient, and both could even cause significant damage doing what they were not designed to do. Further, neither of these tools would work well as a saw or a drill. Every tool has been designed to effectively carry out specific functions. Design and purpose are inseparable.


Unless we understand God’s design and purpose for creating humans, we cannot fully appreciate our identity, our true value, the meaning of life, or even the basis for morality. Value and meaning are not given by evolutionary chance resulting from random mutation and survival of the fittest. What is the ultimate value and meaning in simply perpetuating a dominant species? What is the value of having temporal meaning in this life if we only return to dirt and cease to exist? Why do humans even have need for meaning and purpose? If there is no real difference between people and animals (an identity issue), then is human life expendable (a value issue)? Value, meaning, and ethics are all tied to identity. Why respect or serve our fellow man if we are merely animals and my personal flourishing can benefit by oppressing or removing the competition? How can any act of violence, abuse, or oppression for my own gain be wrong if I am merely an animal? Why do we care about ethics anyway and why do we judge certain actions as morally good or bad? All other animals don’t. What is the basis for morality and determining ethical right and wrong – evolutionary survival, subjective relativism, societal norms, self-evident principles, or divine standards?


Entire books have been written to answer these and similar questions about identity, human value, personal meaning, and ethics; so, it is not my intent to attempt answering these in this brief blog. Rather, I wish to make the claim that man being made in the image of God provides an answer to how we are different than all other earthly creatures; why we have a psychological need for identity, value, and meaning; and why we have a moral conscience. Even in man’s broken state, these are marks of God’s image in man. Like looking into a cracked mirror, fallen man presents a broken and deformed reflection of God’s image, yet it is still His image.


The Bible is clear that God’s image in men and women remains even after mankind’s fall into sin. In fact, after the flood, God implemented capital punishment for the very reason that fallen man still bears His image.[1]


Genesis 9:5–6 (NIV)

5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.


Human Value and Dignity


Because man is created in His image, God ascribes inherent value to human life. All people have intrinsic dignity and value regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, faith, disability, status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and moral behavior because we are made in God’s image. This is not to say that God approves, or that we should approve, of every belief system, every moral choice, or every type of sexual behavior, but rather that all human life is sacred and that every individual, whether sinner or saint, Muslim or Christian, gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female or transgender, needs to be treated with basic human respect, even if we disagree with his or her beliefs or disapprove of his or her lifestyle.


Respect and approval are two very different matters. We must be careful to not confuse them, lest it leads to approving beliefs and behaviors condemned by the Scriptures on one hand or treating people disrespectfully because we disagree or disapprove of their beliefs or practices on the other hand.[2]


Jesus treated sinners with respect even though He did not approve of their lifestyles. Zachaeus, a chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-38), and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:) are three such examples. Jesus even dined with sinners (Mark 2:13-17), which brought the disapproval of the religious establishment. Yet, Jesus came to call sinners to Himself because it is the sick who need a doctor, not the well. Once our eyes are truly opened, we realize that we are all broken and in need of a physician. We all need Jesus to save us and heal us from our sins, because we have all sinned and fallen short of God's moral standard for our lives (Romans 3:23).


The Value of Human Life


The value of human life extends to all preborn human life. Life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11, 14). A preborn baby from conception is sharing life with the mother until his own body systems are fully developed and he enters the world. Consequently, though dependent on the mother, the baby is very much alive in the womb, feeding and growing by drawing support from the mother’s bodily systems.


To claim viability as the beginning for human life is faulty because even a baby outside the womb cannot sustain its own life and needs the daily care of parents to survive. If neglected, the baby would die outside the womb just as a baby dies when it is removed prematurely from the mother’s support system inside the womb. In the same way, some diabetics without insulin are not viable, some heart patients without pacemakers are not viable, and some with respiratory issues are not viable without oxygen. There are many health challenges that threaten viability if it were not for the wonders of modern medicine. So how does one determine viability? Given the opportunity, a developing baby in the womb has greater potential for long-term viability than adults with various medical conditions. Unlike medical interventions designed to extend life, abortive intrusion intentionally kills a life that left to the course of nature would become a fully functioning viable human.


Viability is not the determinative of human value. A man undergoing a heart transplant is not capable of self-survival if he was taken off the machines that circulate his blood and breathe for him during surgery. Nor would others be viable if their pacemakers stopped or if they didn’t receive the medication they needed. This certainly does not make them less valuable. Viability is a poor standard for determining human value, especially when life is evident and the potential for viability is only a matter of time – a heart surgery away or a few months of development in the womb.


The same rationale goes when considering degrees of consciousness or physical or mental disability. The claim that preborn babies have no inherent value because they are only fetuses and not yet mentally developed is without merit. Mental development and consciousness are progressive. Are we no longer of value because we are temporarily unconscious while we sleep? What of those who undergo an anesthetic or induced coma so they are in a state of unconsciousness during medical treatment?[3]


Similarly, just because some have less mental acuity or have physical disability doesn’t mean they are of less value than others, or that they cannot live rich and meaningful lives. One of my aunts had Down syndrome. She lived a full and meaningful life, bringing joy to many. I could write a book about her personal impact on my own life. As for disabilities - consider Joni Eareksen Tada, a quadriplegic from a diving accident at age 17, who founded Joni and Friends and has touched countless thousands with disabilities around the world. Or consider Nick Vujicic, a man born with no arms or legs, who is powerfully reaching many for Christ through his testimony and preaching. Certainly, life has been particularly challenging for both them, but the joy and meaning that they have both experienced and their global impact for the cause of Christ are undeniable. Who are we to determine that a disabled life is not worth living or has less value than our own.


Left: Nick Vujicic with his family; Right: Joni Eareksen Tada with her husband


Regardless of one’s psychological capacities, his relational capacities, or his functional capacities, God has placed intrinsic value in all humans because we are all made in His image. This is why God prohibits the taking of human life and implements capital punishment for both humans and animals who take the life of one made in His image. In similar fashion, the Bible also instructs us not to curse another human, because he or she is made in the image of God.


James 3:8–10 (NIV)

8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.

10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.


James is saying that it is incongruent to honor and respect God with our tongue, but then turn around and use the same tongue to disrespect our fellow man who is made in God’s image. This passage calls to mind a quote I included in my last post regarding the Assyrian kings who erected images of themselves in countries they had conquered. Because of its representative union to the king, “To revile the royal image is as treasonable an act as to revile the king himself.”[4]


In like manner, since all humans are made in God’s image, to kill or curse another human is like an attack on God Himself. It is similar to killing or cursing God in effigy, much like burning one’s national flag or hanging a dummy of a person is a symbolic declaration against that nation or that person. To kill or curse our fellowman is commensurate with attacking God much like not feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and nursing the sick is equated with neglecting Christ (Matthew 25:41-46).


As part of God's human family, we need to treat our human brothers and sisters with respect. More than that, the Scriptures enjoin us "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" {Galatians 6:10 (NIV). Even those who hold differing religious or political views, who live immorally, or who oppose us should be treated with basic human kindness and respect. This does not mean, however, that we should avoid correcting certain individuals who are living in sin, since the Bible charges us to warn them (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Titus 3:10) and commands us to reprove and rebuke them (1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 1:10-14).


Demonstrating basic human regard also does not prohibit those with rightful authority from punishing those who have committed crimes (Romans 13:3-4). In fact, it is exactly because of the value of human life that God calls for capital punishment. Capital punishment shows the severity of taking human life and is to act as a deterrent for those who consider murder as an option. Certainly, the implementation of any punishment, especially capital punishment, needs to be carried out with justice and gravity.


Identity and Meaning


Not only is human value attached to being created in God's image, so also is human identity. We are not merely animals, but rather we are responsible moral creatures with personality, creativity, and intellectual capacity. We are relational beings who can relate to God and others. In fact, much of our identity flows from our primary relationships (son, daughter, father, mother, friend, student, teacher, image bearer of God, co-regent, child of God, etc.).


In turn, knowing our identities, along with our unique psychological, spiritual, and moral capacities, helps shape a sense of purpose. When we have a clear sense of who we are and how God has uniquely designed us, this affirms a sense of personal significance and also provides meaningful direction and purpose for our lives. So, from our relationship with God and with others, along with understanding our unique design, we come to discover identity and purpose - i.e., who we are and why we are here.


It is only by understanding our God-given design and His intent in both creating and redeeming us that we discover our true identity, value, and purpose. By understanding the importance of God creating us in His image, we can grasp the "roots" of who we are and why we are here. Then by experiencing God's amazing sacrificial love even in our sinfulness (Romans 5:8) and by discovering His plan to conform us to the moral likeness of His son, we capture a picture of the "fruit" of what we are to become and our purpose in eternity.


It is only as we experience the redemption of Christ and His transforming work in our lives that God’s image can be fully restored in our psychological capacities, our relational interactions, and in our functional role as His representatives on the earth. Though these are all equally important, I believe that the substantive aspect of God's image really forms the foundation for the relational and functional aspects of God’s image in man. This is because Adam and Eve needed to have the intellectual, moral, spiritual, and relational faculties to be able to relate to God and each other and to be able to carry out their assigned role as God's co-regents over the earth. Hence, God designed Adam and Eve to be like Him in a substantive sense so that they could also be like Him in a relational and functional sense. Without "God-like" spiritual and psychological faculties, the relating and ruling facets of God's image would not be possible.


This design/function combination is also seen when God created the sun and moon with their varying capacities for illumination, and then appointed “the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” He also assigned them roles in regulating seasons, days, and years (Genesis 1:14-19). Their "governing" functions would not have been possible had God not designed them with the necessary capacities for heating and lighting the earth, and had He not placed them in their particular orbits. Once again, design and function go hand-in-hand.


It is only as we yield our substantive capacities of thought, choice, emotion, and conscience increasingly to the life and Lordship of Christ that we will experience moral transformation. This in turn will result in our human relationships and subduing functions in the earth also coming into full alignment with a restored image of God. Future blogs will explore how this transformation takes place.


Ultimately, it is God’s purpose that we reflect His image substantively, relationally, and functionally (as explained in my three previous blogs) and that we are transformed morally into the image of His Son. In eternity, all four facets of God's image in man will once again be restored. Heaven will be a place of indescribable elation as we experience a full restoration of God's image. Imagine the fulness of joy in God’s presence, the intellectual stimulation of searching out is His infinite wisdom, the richness of relational intimacy with God, the peace that will come from the absence of sin, and the honor of ruling and reigning with Christ.




REFERENCES

[1] God's grounds His implementation of capital punishment on the sacredness of human life because man is created in His image. On a practical level, God was deeply grieved over the state of affairs before the flood and by implementing capital punishment, it would act as a deterrent to prevent a recurrence of the extreme violence that had characterized the pre-flood world (Genesis 11:6),


[2] For further discussion on these issues and the limits of tolerance, see my paper, "Is There a Limit to Tolerance?" It can be found on the Free Resources page of this website. Click here.


[3] Some of my thoughts on viability and consciousness are drawn from statements by Ben Shapiiro in a podcast linked here https://youtu.be/CUzkjWwx-kY.

[4] David J. A. Clines. "The Image of God in Man." Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968). 83.

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