Thursday, September 25, 2008

Image of God

What does God look like? Does he have a nose or toes? Genesis 1:26-27 says that God created man and woman in His likeness and image. Genesis 9:6 even lays out the penalty for spilling the blood of another because we were made in His image. What does it mean to be made in his likeness or image?

This may sound like a pointless question, but the answer has significant implications. This was a major stumbling block for me when I began to consider whether or not God used evolution as the method to create the bodily form of humans. If we were made in God's image, we should be special and not descend from the same line as a monkey or an ape. But, John 1 says that through Christ, all things were made and that later Christ became "flesh" and "made his dwelling among us." There are other passages that imply the same thing -- that God does not have a bodily form. So, then, it is doubtful that He has a nose or toes or any human feature of the body.

1 John 4:16 says, "God is love." Perhaps this is a good place to begin when trying to determine how we are like God. We have the capacity to love and be loved. Do animals have this feature? I am not a horse or dog whisperer, but I have grown up around animals. They do seem to have a capacity for caring and loyalty, but not love as we see expressed by humans. And every human has this capacity -- Christians and non-Christians, theists and atheists -- because we were all made in His likeness/image.

I have also seen other explanations as to how we are similar to God: self-awareness, the ability to think and reason. These are important explanations too. But they all have one thing in common in that they are more internal than external. They help us control our fleshly instinct to only care or worry about ourselves. I think this is a primary way we are made in God's image. We have the ability to put others first and to use this divine gift to set aside our own selfish desires (whether biological or psychological).

If we look at image and likeness in this light, we still see that we are unique when it comes to other animals. But we may share more with the animals of the world than we thought before. This might be a good thing as God commanded us to "rule over" the animal kingdom and "subdue" the Earth (Genesis 1). It gives us more of an incentive to take care of our planet (as if God's commandment wasn't enough) when we learn we are part of it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Origins of Morality

Newsweek has an interesting article this week on the origins of morality. Scientists at Harvard are conducting surveys to determine how people respond to various moral dilemmas. The article says, "A new science of morality is beginning to uncover how people in different cultures judge such dilemmas, identifying the factors that influence judgment and the actions that follow. These studies suggest that nature provides a universal moral grammar, designed to generate fast, intuitive and universally held judgments of right and wrong." Regarding moral choices, it says "What is remarkable is that people with different backgrounds, including atheists and those of faith, respond in the same way."

I touched on this subject almost a year ago when an article in the New York Times noted that morality could be explained simply by evolution. At the time, I noted:

"Can we explain our morality from a strictly biological perspective? Dr. Francis Collins -- a theistic evolutionist -- dismisses the argument that humans obtained their moral reasoning from the evolutionary process. For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? The apparent existence of right and wrong, he believes, is a persuasive argument for the existence of a god. Many others who wrote before Collins (including C.S Lewis) also hold such beliefs."

The scientists at Harvard are making some fascinating findings. Morality or right/wrong is a common human trait. More importantly, our responses to moral dilemmas appears to be generally the same, regardless of religiosity and culture. This phenominon was realized close to 2,000 years ago when the Apostle Paul said, "Indeed when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law...they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." (Romans 2:14-15, NIV)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dumb Questions

Over the years, I have had many questions about God and the Bible. Many I have been able to answer with some reasonable degree of comfort. There are two, however, that I have yet wrapped my mind around. I am beginning to wonder if there are answers to these questions on this side of eternity.

1) Why will we not sin in Heaven? Perhaps I am being presumptuous when I assume that there will be no sin. But scripture seems to imply that sin (and the result of sin) will not exist in Heaven. The crux of the question really boils down to the difference between God's initial act of creation (Adam, Eve, the Garden) and Heaven. Even the most godly people I know are not perfect. Their characters are certainly worth emulating, but they still fall short at times -- thus the need for Christ. What will change within us when we enter God's presence that will prevent acts against God's will? In short, what will prevent us from making the same mistake that Adam and Eve did? This leads me to my second question...

2) What is the point of creation? In other words, why is God going through all of "this" (human history)? I doubt that we will spend an eternity in Heaven singing and playing the harp. Christ tells many parables of what Heaven will be like and the Apostle Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 6 that the saints will "judge angels." Other than passages like these, there is no real indication of the ultimate purpose God had for making people. Our lives must be preparing us for something significant once we pass away -- but what? The Apostle Paul also says in Romans 5:3-4 that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." During our lives, we are being refined. When gold or other precious metals are refined, the result is often a beautiful piece of jewelry. I doubt those entering Heaven are merely cosmic bling to adorn God's crib.

Of the two questions, an answer to the latter would be the most helpful. My wife and I are currently training for a triathlon. The training is hard and can be painful. But the day of the race, the goal is that I will be in sufficient condition to not only finish, but place in my age group (although this is doubtful). In other words, the temporary pain is worth the long term benefit. While this analogy fails on several levels, I think it is applicable to the second question. Life can be painful and even the most faithful sometimes ask themselves, "What's the point?" I doubt the point is to spend an eternity in a beautiful home in the clouds -- like a dog who gets a prize for returning to its master. Would God really go through all of this work so we can sit on our butts in Heaven all day? I doubt it.

In the grand scheme of things, these may be relatively minor questions. But answers would help as Christians face other difficulties, such as why pain and suffering exists. We may not ever know the answers, but it doesn't hurt to ask the question.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


An article in Christianity Today caught my attention some time ago. The editorial comments on Willow Creek Community Church's recent study highlighting a surprising find -- their style of church has been less successful at meeting the needs of more mature believers.

I read the article with great interest as I had been struggling with the mission of "church" for some time. In early Christianity, church was meant to teach those who had made a public profession of their faith and those who had expressed a significant interest in making a public profession. The elements of the church service served to edify the believers so they, in turn, would be the hands and feet of Christ and evangelize the world around them.

Some churches today have moved away from this model and are focused on being places of evangelism and less on teaching. In other words, they are geared (for the most part) toward new or non-believers. Has our world/culture changed so dramatically that it calls for such a shift? Is the classical church model no longer effective in reaching a lost world? Are both Biblical?

I love this quote from the book, Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church, which makes an interesting observation:

"During a time when Christianity was outlawed and Christians were the outcasts of society, Christianity grew. And it grew without big-screen presentations and air-conditioned church buildings with comfy seats. Without seeker services. Without evangelistic crusades and programmed gospel presentations. Instead, Christians met in secret to worship together. In fact, deacons guarded the door to screen people attempting to come in."

Christ told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He did not tell us to go and make Christians, but disciples -- there is a big difference. I have seen a huge disconnect when people accept Christ to when they become a mature, faithful believer. It is almost as if it is supposed to happen by osmosis! It is rare to see an intentional outreach effort to build a new believer into a strong and dedicated Christian.

This is the problem I have witnessed with many church models -- they bring you in, but there is no intentional method for walking you through what it means to be a Christian. If you are lucky, you may meet a wonderful person who can mentor you, but this is rare. It is no surprise that we have a fairly large, functionally illiterate (Biblically) generation of Christians (the author of this blog included). This is sad because if a believer does not have a proper foundation for their faith, things become more difficult later in life, especially when we face a crisis or a tough question (such as the accuracy of the Bible). On top of this, challengers of the Christian faith are becoming more and more sophisticated in their arguments.

I have become drawn to this raw and intentional Christianity. And fortunately, I believe my family and I have found it. I have learned more in the past 6 months than I have since I became a Christian as a child (the lack of understanding almost caused me to fall away from church later in life). The confidence to speak with others has also grown. It took finding a church with a new (or maybe old?) way of teaching...and a pastor who wasn't afraid to discuss what many think are complicated topics.