Monday, March 27, 2006

Imago Dei vs Original Sin

I’ve been working through a sermon series exploring a theology of service. In the first sermon, I laid the foundation using the doctrine of humanity made in the image of God. Looking at Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, I explored how all humans, regardless of status or position or physical capacity, are made in the image of God – as bearers of the divine image, they are due honor and respect.

And then, in the following week, I was approached by several people in our congregation with questions: what do we do about people who are so totally given over to evil – how do we deal with the effects of the fall on the image of God – is the imago dei lost?

Calvin goes to great pains to point out that the main expression of the divine image lies in the human soul – though he doesn’t confine it to that: “And although the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and heart, or in the soul and its powers, yet there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks did not glow.” (Institutes Vol 1, Ch 15, part 3). But then Calvin goes on to say that the image of God is not destroyed, but it is very corrupted by the fall “Therefore, even though we grant that God’s image was not totally annihilated and destroyed in him, yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity.” (Vol 1, Ch 15, Part 4). Thus, the image is not lost by the fall – but it is in need of redemption. Calvin posits that we can know about the nature of the image of God by considering the nature of what Christ does for us in redemption.

So what’s the point? Well simply this – humans continue to carry the dignity of the divine image, but we also suffer under the depravity of corruption from the fall. This means not that we lose the excellencies of creativity and thought and relational ability. It means that we are bent away from using the excellencies of our gifts for God’s greater glory – rather we use them for our own satisfaction, aggrandizement, and comfort. Indeed, we are so adept at self-deception that we can use all God’s good gifts for our own ends, but still convince ourselves that we’re doing good.

Now what to do with those who have so given themselves over to sin that they don’t care about the harm they create in the course of their lives – how does the doctrine of the imago dei operate with these folks? First of all, it makes their condemnation all the greater – as they disrespect the imago dei that others carry, they bring greater condemnation upon themselves. Secondly, it moves us to weep – for we have to protect the weak against such predators. We need to shut away those who are bent on causing harm and destruction. (an aside, we don’t do this as individuals – God has given to the state the power of the sword (Romans 13:1-5) for this purpose). Our natural response to such aggression is wrath, but then after punishment has been executed, I suggest that we mourn what that an image bearer has so disregarded the divine image within.

I’m eagerly awaiting your thoughts on this one.

Soli Deo Gloria