May 29, 2011

Imago Dei

The concept of being created in the image of God is at the center point of many Christian anthropological positions (anthropology is the study of humanity: what makes humans human). My pastor often says that you should never create a doctrine around a single verse. This is an excellent rule of thumb, and I highly recommend it, but ironically when we are talking about being made in the image of God, we have to deal with the fact that this term is actually only used in one passage of all of Scripture: Genesis 1:26-30 (though referenced elsewhere). However, this is a rather important verse. It is specifically the creation of man, and as such gives us what I think is a legitimate exception to the general rule.

So what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Well there are several things that it doesn't mean. We aren't ethereal. We aren't a Trinity of persons. We aren't omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnitemporal, and any other omni for that matter. Indeed, there are a lot of ways in which we actually look nothing like God. So how can it be said that we are made in God's image?

Going to Context

Well, if we are going to look at this question biblically, we need to remember the 3 Cs of hermeneutics: context, context, and context. So let's look at the context:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. -Genesis 1:26-30
It is interesting to note that it doesn't go on to describe any divine attributes. However, what it does do is connect the notion of humanity's creation to humanity's authority over the rest of creation. Indeed, I would argue that this is what the concept of being in the image of God means: we have authority over creation.

Authority vs. Sovereignty

"Hold up! How can we have authority over creation, while God is still sovereign?"

To put it simply, having authority is not the same thing as being in charge. When I was a kid, my sister Calin and I had authority over our younger siblings (Calin exercised that authority to a greater extent than I did, but I digress). However, none of us ever confused Calin and me with Mom and Dad. We all knew who really was in charge.

Indeed, it is this kind of fundamental confusion that has lead me to never take Calvinist claims of having "a more sovereign God" seriously. Being more despotic, doesn't make someone more sovereign. It usually just makes them more of a jerk.

In the case of humans and God, the relationship between the two is essentially that of delegation. God delegates a certain amount of authority over to humanity for us to rule over creation. However, what authority we have is only based on our submission to the source of that authority: the Divine King.

The Race of Representatives

Understanding that our authority comes from God's sovereignty, as opposed to being... well, opposed to it, becomes easier when we understand our authority in terms of imago dei. The Hebrew word for 'image' is 'tselem', which is often used to refer to idols.

Now, I am not saying that humans are idols of God, or anything like that. It is very clear in Scripture that we are not to worship each other, but it is important to understand how the word connects to idol worship.In idol worship, one doesn't believe that the idol is truly their god. Instead they believe that the represents their god, or stands in for their god so that they can interact with him/her in a more tangible way. Thus we can consider 'tselem' to mean representation, or representative.

A story from I Samuel works to illustrate this. In this story, the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant, and God has sent plagues of tumors and mice to punish them. Then, in chapter 6, they inquire of their priests what they should do. The answer is to make images (or tselemim) of the mice and the tumors out of gold as an appeasement to God. Note how the images here are not things to be worshiped, but things to represent the tumors and the mice.

Likewise, we can consider ourselves, as human beings, to be things which represent God in creation. We are His delegates, His representatives, and the only power we have is by representing God Himself. Our power is not of our own, but it is an extension of His.

Going to the Story

Now the Bible tells a story. Theologically, we call this the metanarrative, or the overarching story from which our theology is based. When we imagine the image of God in this manner, we find that it influences the way in which we view God's interaction with humanity through history.

At first God sets up humanity to be His representatives among creation. However, humanity rebels and becomes separate from God, deterring humanity's ability to accurately represent Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular people within humanity to represent Him among humanity. He chooses a single man by the name of Abraham, and sets apart his descendants as the Chosen People, or the Elect. They come to be known as the Israelites. However, at Mount Sinai the Israelites reject God out of fear, and wish to remain separate from Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular tribe within Israel to represent Him among the Elect. This is the tribe of Levi, and they become the priests of Israel. Indeed, a priest is best understood as someone who represents God to the people, and represents the people to God. If you remember, it was God's original intention for Israel to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). However, because the Israelites rejected this, only the Levites are priests.

Even so, God still continues to show His desire to rule people through a divine representative by establishing the High Priest, to represent Him to the Levites. Therefore, within the OT, you have:

High Priest
/ \
/ \
/ \
/ \

Now let's think of the New Testament. In the New Testament, we, the gentiles, are grafted into the vine of Israel, and thus become God's elect as well. However, because of the priesthood of all believers, we manifest God's original design for Israel to be a priesthood to all nations. Thus the Levites and Israel collapse together in the NT picture as the Church. However, we are not grafted in by our own power, but by the power of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection, as the Resurrected One becomes our High Priest. Therefore, in the NT we have:

/ \
/ \
/ \

Therefore we see that this is how God chooses to rule over His creation. He does not do so through meticulous predestination of all things, though He could. Instead, He chooses to act through people, and He appoints people and peoples for the purpose of representing Him and acting for Him. This is how God manifests His sovereignty.

What Does That Mean for Us?

A few different things. First of all, it means that we are responsible for what we do. We are responsible to God, not just because we are His creatures, but because we have the unique make-up to act on God's behalf. Therefore in everything we do, we represent God as we do it, whether that be consciously or unconsciously. Our sins are not simply bad things that we do, but they are things that besmear God's image, for we are God's image.

Second of all, we have a responsibility. We are supposed to represent God. As humans, we are to represent God in creation and take care of it and nurture it. Do we behave like crazy environmentalists? No. But we treat creation with respect, do what we can to bring out its beauty, but also organize it, and incorporate our own structures within it as any gardener would.

As Christians, we also represent God to other humans. As such, we need to represent Him in both justice and mercy. We don't back down from what God says is true and just, but we behave in a way that demonstrates God's love and affection for humanity. We are delegates of a benevolent king, and we should be benevolent as well. But we are still representing the king, not just some guy with really good ideas.

Third, we need to see that humans are holy: even bad ones and even unborn ones. The way we treat other humans cannot simply be based out of convenience or judgement. People deserve our respect, not because they have earned it, but because they represent God Himself. I would say, biblically speaking, that it is never good to kill a human being (though it is sometimes necessary). Killing other humans soils our hands. Even David, though he fought in God's wars, was too unclean to build God's temple.

Essentially it means that we need to treat humans with respect, not because they deserve it (because we don't), but because they represent God, and God deserves it.

May 22, 2011

Newest Development in the Obama/Israel Scandal - Satire

At 8:15 this afternoon, as many of you know, President Obama has released his plan concerning Israel. He announced that he hopes to encourage Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by a demonstration of returning the entire state of Oklahoma to Native Americans. Already this bold radical plan is beginning to start a scandal.

Robert Gibbs explains, "Many have called us hypocritical for telling Israel to return land that it won in a war while we are still living on land that we won from Native Americans. We hope that this gesture will demonstrate to Netanyahu that we are serious in believing that this is the best way to resolve this conflict." When asked why the president choose Oklahoma he stated, "It's not like we were using it anyway."

So far there have been many complaints about this plan. Tea Party leader Sarah Palin stated, "How does he expect to do this without the approval of the Oklahoma legislature? We are the United States, not the United Territories." Additionally several theatrical groups have spoken out against the plan saying that it will damage sales of the Richard Rodgers play of the same name.

Even some Native American groups have complained. One such leader stated, "It's like being given a lawn mower while living in an apartment. It is rather valuable, but what are we supposed to do with it?"

According to Gibbs, "We know that there are a lot of nay-sayers on this issue. Some think that it is foolish, and some claim that it is based off of a complete misunderstanding of the Middle East situation. However, we stand resolute. We are doing this for peace; we hope for peace... and sometimes hope is audacious."


New sources have apparently confirmed that the presidents original plan was to give back Texas which we won in the Mexican-American war back to Mexico. This plan was evidently defeated when the Presidents military advisors pointed out that we didn't win Texas, but rather it was annexed. To this news, the President merely said, "oh."

May 17, 2011

The Bible and Code Words

A word that is often thrown around is the word "inerrant" when referring to Scripture. Often people ask "Do you believe that the Bible is inerrant?" At first glance this seems like a rather easy question, but it isn't always.

The problem is that the word has a history, and some people define it based off of that history, while others define it based off of how the word breaks down (and some define it both ways). When you break down the word, it simply means "without error or mistake". Well, I can easily say that the biblical authors and the Spirit who inspired those authors didn't make any mistakes. However, I don't like the term inerrant, and my reason is its history: what the term tends to mean by those who have used it in the past few decades.

The word came into usage because of certain debates which happened over the nature of the Bible within the 19th and 20th centuries. To make a long story short, part of the debate wasn't just whether or not the Scriptures have errors, but what actually constitutes an error. The term inerrant itself came to be identified with the camp that considered an error to anything which contradicted a perfectly literal understanding of the text.

Thus there are two kinds of people that tend to reject the term inerrancy: the liberal who rejects the reliability of Scripture, and the serious exegete who recognizes that the Scriptures are not modern texts and need to be understood within their own contexts first.

So what ends up happening is that in many places the word 'inerrant' becomes a codeword, and there are many who redefine it so that they can be in the the in-crowd. Can I affirm a document that uses the term 'inerrant'? Sure. I don't believe Scripture has errors. But I would never use that word to describe my belief by choice, and what many forget is that it is the idea that matters, not the word itself.

May 4, 2011

Should We Celebrate Osama Bin Laden's Death?

Osama Bin Laden was, by definition, an evil man. However, when I found out that he had died, I was oddly somber. I remember not feeling that way when Huessein was captured (indeed I was overjoyed about that), so I wondered what was different. Then I realized that the different was death.

But why should I be sad that an evil man died? I think what it comes down to is that deep down I know that Hell has another occupant, and to me, that just doesn't seem victorious. It isn't that I am regretful that he is dead (quite the opposite in fact); it is just that I am not happy about it.

I've read two different blog posts on this issue that demonstrates both sides. One is Dr. Roger Olson's (note how his title is very similar to mine). Reading this post was like reviewing my own thoughts, which was rather nice. I do believe that death is something which is alien to creation, and that killing is never something God really wants. Even David was told that his hands were too bloody to build the temple, and the wars he had raged were righteous. Dr. Olson I believe does a very good job at both recognizing that Bin Laden was evil, and thus needed to be killed while on the other hand lamenting the loss of a soul.

On the other hand, there is my best friend Chris's post, whose blog is more politically based than theological. However, Chris does have a strong heart for God and the lost, and he does know his Bible well. His main point is that there are many places where the Bible encourages us to celebrate justice, and to rejoice in victory. He quotes I Samuel 18:6-7, though I think something like Psalm 18 would have been more appropriate. Still, his point remains valid: there is support in Scripture for rejoicing in victory, and in celebrating justice.

Where does that leave me? Well, at the risk of being Bartian, I would argue that as Christians we should be both mournful and celebratory. Every evil man's has a stint of beauty and worth to them on account of them being made in the image of God. This is not something to be blotted out. But their beauty is akin to the beauty of a dandelion, and all though it may be bright and possess in intrinsic value, that value is made moot by its aggression which places its environs in danger.

So yes, I do think that in a sense we should celebrate. We should rejoice that a major victory was made for goodness and the world. We should rejoice that a threat that existed against us has been diminished. We should rejoice that justice was done. But we should do so while mourning that this victory was an earthly one, and our Enemy achieved a victory the same night.

PS. I only use the term beauty above to make the dandelion analogy work. I mean look at the guy. What was he thinking with that beard!