The Image of God in a Fallen World - Part Two

God made everything good. Indeed, with man and woman standing at the center of God's world, we can agree with the statement of Genesis 1:31, "Behold, it was very good." The world should have stayed this way. Had Adam and Eve obediently followed God's commands they would have multiplied on the earth, spreading God's rule across the land and living in loving relationships, all to the glory of God himself. They would have had access to the tree of life and eventually been able to join God in his rest. The whole world would have been the better for it. No war, no strife, no pain or violence of any kind.

But we don't live in a world like that. We live in a world of terrorism, domestic violence, cheating husbands (and wives), tax frauds, dishonest politicians, and toddlers who defiantly learn to say "no" to their parents at an alarmingly early age! We live in a sinful, fallen world because we ourselves are sinful, fallen people. Created in God's image, yet broken and forever falling short of the glory we were made to reflect (Romans 3:23).

This reality was driven home one evening not long ago when I was making a run to the pet store (we had once again run out of dog food). I pulled into a parking spot on the side of the store and stepped out of my car. Very quickly another car stopped at an odd angle behind mine and a man stepped out. I assumed that he was going to inform me that my right front tire was low on air (I'd already been reminded by at least two different people). Instead, he immediately started cursing at me and accusing me of driving like a mad man (not his exact words). Apparently, I had failed to come to a complete stop earlier at a stop sign in my neighborhood. (Yes, he had followed me all the way to the store!) Moreover, because I have very little regard for parking lot stop signs at night in empty parking lots, I had only demonstrated, in his mind, that I was an out-of-control, senseless driver by the time we arrived at the store. I listened to his complaint without barking back (so far, so good). I eventually turned, when it seemed he was finished, and went into the store, informing him that I really needed to get some dog food now.

Initially, I was proud of myself for not barking back at him. I had held back all of the sarcastic remarks that were buzzing through by head. But over the next day, as I thought about what happened, I got angry. I imagined what I could have said, what I should have said. A clever comeback here, a little jab there. In my mind, I could have turned his insults on his head and really won the day with my wit and sarcasm. Anger and smugness quickly turned to conviction. Sure, he shouldn't have cursed at me. But I did run a stop sign (three or four, if you count those legally non-binding parking lot signs!). And he had said something about having kids and not wanting them to get hit by a car. So, there I was, with my sense of justice (no one should get cussed out when they're just trying to feed hungry pets) and my own law-breaking, angry spirit wishing I had not responded as kindly as I did. Made with a moral compass and swerving all over map. This is not who I was designed to be. None of us lives up to what man and woman were originally designed to be. The first pair of human beings blazes a trail of self-centered defiance that all of us seem determined to explore.

THE IMAGE OF GOD UNDER ATTACK: RULED OVER RULER

As we continue reading in Genesis about the earliest endeavors of mankind, we find that very quickly Adam and Eve forsake their God-given calling in order to make their own way. They diverge from what they know is right all in the name of claiming the right to say what's right. The Tempter, crafty and wise himself, tells Eve, "God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil," (Genesis 3:5). He claims to be able to make God's image-bearers like him in a way that God has, apparently, denied. He accuses God of holding back his blessings. There is some truth to this. God has held back this knowledge, but it is not a blessing for man to possess this knowledge. It is a curse.

Already in verse 1 of Genesis 3 Satan has declared war upon God's good plans for those made in his image. He attacks both man's calling to rule over the created order and his obligation to live in God-glorifying relationships. We are told, "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made," (Genesis 3:1). Of course, this is no ordinary serpent. While his full identity is not revealed to the reader in Genesis 3, there can be little doubt about who he is. Later biblical writers identify him as the great tempter, Satan, or the devil (Revelation 20:2). Jesus tells us, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies," (John 8:44). He lies in order to kill. He seeks only to "kill, steal, and destroy" (John 10:10), and is a "lion, seeking someone to devour," (1 Peter 5:8).

While all of this is true, we also know that a part of his deception is that he rarely appears to be what he really is. Paul tells us that "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light," (2 Corinthians 11:14). Why, then, does he appear in the form of a serpent in the garden? How can he hope, in this form, to capture the attention and admiration of those with whom God regularly goes on morning walks? The answer is really quite simple. Adam and Eve have been given dominion over the "beasts of the field." Now, this most crafty beast will overturn God's order. He will come in the guise of one they are meant to rule, but he will rule over them with his lies and manipulation. This is an attack on the image-bearers' calling to rule over the "beasts of the field" as God's representatives.

THE IMAGE OF GOD UNDER ATTACK: RELATIONSHIPS REVERSED

In fact, as Moses writes Genesis 3, he highlights the reversal of God's creation order throughout the story of the Fall. There is a clear hierarchy in God's world. God sits atop, as sovereign King and Creator. Man and woman rule over the world as his ambassadors. Within the marriage relationship of the man and woman, man is the leader and the woman is his helper, a fit companion for him. Adam's authority in the first family is highlighted in key ways throughout Genesis 2. He is created before Eve (1 Timothy 2:13). He gives her a name (Genesis 2:25), a sign of authority in the biblical world. Both are created in God's image and are therefore of equal value and worth. Both rule over God's world and stand in need of the other in order to carry out their responsibilities as God's representatives. But they have differing roles in the administration of some of those responsibilities. This is a part of God's good design, to be preserved in every family and in the household of God (the church). The relationships that God has commanded and created are to reflect, in their loving treatment of one another, the love present within the Godhead. Satan has already attacked the image-bearers' call to exercise dominion; now he attacks their calling to reflect God's glory in God-ordained relationships.

The Serpent comes first in the story. Then he addresses, not Adam, but Eve. He speaks to the woman. This does not let Adam off the hook. We learn in verse 6 that the woman's husband was "with her." This begs the question: why does Adam remain silent throughout his wife's conversation with the serpent? When Satan asks, "Did God really say...?" he should have responded, "Yes, he did. I was there." Instead, there is silence. Deafening silence, like the hush of football stadium when the visiting team seals their own victory. Rarely does temptation attack us from only one direction. The battle has many fronts. Here, the focus is on the serpent's questioning of God's Word, but behind that stands his unraveling of God's design.

The man's failure is as multifaceted as the tempter's attack. He does not defend God's Word. Instead, he doubts the goodness of God himself. He succumbs to superficial desires rather than delighting in God and his good gifts. He determines that he will define what is right, rather than trust in God's own judgment. He stands idly by while God's order is reversed, rather than standing guard over his family. He simply watches as his wife, over whom he previously rejoiced with singing, is deceived and seduced. He does not lead as the covenantal head of his family, and so as the covenantal head of the entire human family, he plunges us all into darkness and misery.

THE CURSES

Both of these reversals are addressed in two ways as God responds. First, God demonstrates his commitment to his own design. The dubious reversal of the divine order is itself reversed as God intervenes. He addresses the man first. "But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The man deflects to his wife, hinting that God is ultimately to blame (still questioning the goodness of God!). "You gave her to me!" Before, he praised God for the gift of woman; now, he blames God. Still he will not lead. So, God moves on. He questions Adam's wife. Eve deflects to the Serpent. "He tricked me!" So, God moves on. But for the serpent there is no questioning. There is no possibility of explanation. There are only the curses.

In the midst of those curses, however, there is the greatest of promises. God tells the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel," (Genesis 3:15). God's judgment upon the serpent will also be the means of humanity's rescue. It is notable that redemption will come through the woman's offspring, or seed.

Dominion Compromised

This mention of the woman's offspring leads into God's word of judgment upon the woman. Interestingly, she will suffer in ways that reflect her obligations as one made in the image of God. First, God's judgment brings difficulty and strife to her unique role in multiplying for the sake of dominion. "To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children." (Genesis 3:16a). Dominion requires multiplication, which is now made exponentially more difficult. Pain will be increased. Indeed, even with our incredible medical advances, pregnancy and childbirth still come with danger.

God also highlights the Fall's effect upon mankind's representative rule in his words to the man. Here, the emphasis is upon the pain and toil he will endure in his attempt to do the most basic task of ruling over the earth: producing food.

[C]ursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17–19) Work is no more a new concept to Adam than childbirth is to Eve after the Fall (of course, Eve hasn't experienced childbirth, but she has been told to "be fruitful," so she's at least familiar with the idea.). Like childbirth, the man's work will be accompanied by pain. No longer is the earth his willing subject. Now, outside the garden and away from God's presence, the broken image of God will struggle to rule over God's world.

Love Unsettled

Just before these words of judgment, God's says something to Adam that sounds shocking to modern ears: "Because you listened to the voice of your wife..." Now, Adam is not being condemned for the mere act of physical listening. Nor is he being punished for taking his wife's advice, as if his fellow image-bearer could not possibly have wisdom and sound counsel to offer. Instead, God scolds Adam for his failure to lead and protect his family from the serpent. God specifically lays the blame for the Fall upon the man's participation in the serpent's reversal of the created order. Love for his wife and love for God and God's Word should have compelled Adam to seize the serpent and cast him out of the garden. He does not do that; he doesn't love his closest (and only!) neighbor. He does not fulfill his obligations as one made in God's image.

In addition, the woman's relationship with her husband will now be strained, to put it lightly: "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you,” (Genesis 3:16b). Scholars debate the exact meaning of this statement. Some have interpreted the passage in such a way as to indicate that all male hierarchy/leadership is a product of the Fall. This is unlikely, given that distinctions in male/female roles is present in Genesis 2. The key to a correct interpretation is found in Genesis 4, where a very similar phrase is found. There, God addresses Cain after the murder of his brother, telling him: "[I]f you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it”, (Genesis 4:7). The phrase, sin's "desire is contrary to you" is parallel with the statement, "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband." Likewise, the phrase, "but you must rule over it," is parallel with the statement, "but he shall rule over you." There will be a war waged between sin and Abel. Sin will try to have the upper hand, but Cain must resist and "rule over" the sinful desires of his heart. In the same way, there will be conflict between man and woman, husband and wife. There will be a battle for supremacy. The harmonious, complementary relationship the man and woman were created to enjoy will now be broken by selfish ambition. Sexual complementarity has now been supplanted by the gender wars.

Of course, the effects of sin on human relationships stretches out well beyond the confines of marriage and even broader gender distinctions. Only one generation after the first couple were created, their own son murders his brother (Genesis 4:8). A few generations later, mass murder and polygamy are introduced (Genesis 4:19-24). As more generations pass, humanity's plight grows darker. Eventually, the corruption of marriage (Genesis 6:1-2) and rampant violence (Genesis 6:11) bring God's judgment upon the world.

Even after the judgment of the flood, mankind remains broken. God's image-bearers do not honor him by wisely ruling over the world. Instead, we bow down in worship to that over which we were made to rule. Instead, we simultaneously exalt God's creation to divine heights and we abuse and waste that over which we were to be God's stewards. The world is filled with bloodshed, abuse, neglect, and idolatry. Paul' words summarizing our lost condition are accurate: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes... For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:10–18; 23)."

BROKEN, BUT NOT DESTROYED

It is tempting to think, in light of how far humanity has fallen and in view of the length, breadth, and ingenuity of man's sinfulness, that the image of God has been destroyed. It is tempting to believe that whatever capacity we once possessed to represent God or to reflect his glory to the world has been erased. Yet, while we must acknowledge that sin's effect upon us penetrates to the core of who we are and affects every part of us, the image of God remains in us. This is the testimony of both the Old and New Testaments.

After the flood, when God renews his covenant commitment with Noah, he gives a command that only makes sense in a fallen, violence-prone world: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image," (Genesis 9:6). Amazingly, even at this point in God's story, human beings are still considered his image-bearers. Genesis 4-6 recounts the rapid decent of mankind into darkness without asserting that God's image in us has been completely destroyed. We are not what we once were, but we are also not something completely different. We have the same calling and the same responsibilities as Adam and Eve in the garden. We exist for the glory of God, reflected in our relationships and our representative rule over the world. We will stumble. We will fail. Apart from God's grace we cannot please him or obey his law (Romans 8:7). But every person in the world remains a person created in the image of God.

This truth is confirmed in the New Testament. James exhorts his readers, "With [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so," (James 3:9–10). James says that a verbal attack aimed at another person is an attack upon God's image. Millennia removed from the Fall, human beings are still regarded as those made in God's likeness. Dig deep enough into any moral demand about how you treat others, and you will find that the enduring image of God in every human being lies at the foundation.

This image binds us to God's design and to his standards for the world. He has made us for himself and he has called us to love and serve all other image-bearers. This is why we can sum up the entire moral law with one commandment: "Love your neighbor." "For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law, (Romans 13:9–10)." This is the sum and substance of the law that we find written on every human heart (Romans 2:14-15), no matter how hard we might work to bury it. Love tells us the true purpose of every moral law and principle God has given us. Those laws and principles, in turn, show us what love really looks like when the fog of moral confusion descends upon us.

THE ROAD AHEAD

As we move ahead in later chapters, we will assume that all human beings of every background, of every shade, in every part of the world, and at every stage of life are made in the image of God. We will also have to take into account the fallen nature of every descendant of Adam. With this foundation laid, we can look at the moral and social issues of our day - fraught as they are with difficulty - and have hope that clear answers can be found in God's Word. Knowing that God has established a baseline by which to judge all people's behavior and that he has stamped upon us all the same worth and value will give us that hope and a strategy for finding solid, transcultural, trans-temporal answers to today's moral quandaries.