And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 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’ (Genesis 1:24-28).
Most Bible scholars and theologians do not equate the image of God with any one human attribute. To be sure, the image of God is evident in that humans are intelligent, rational beings, capable of complex thought and self-awareness, and of amazing ingenuity. We are also highly emotional creatures, at our best capable of great love, compassion, altruism, sympathy, and even empathy. Moreover, we are moral agents; again, at our best we know that right and wrong are realities, and that beauty is more desirable than ugliness. We are also the world’s only ‘language animals,’ able to communicate with each other with stunning precision and depth, but more importantly, able to understand and respond to God’s address (thus humans are ‘response-able’ creatures). All these attributes should be taken into consideration when pondering what it means that humans bear the image of God.
As this text from Genesis makes clear, however, the chief byproducts of being made in God’s image are dignity and dominion. That is to say, as God’s representatives, or vice-regents on earth, we are to exhibit responsible stewardship over his creation, cultivating and consuming the garden that is the world—including the animals within it—with a dignity that befits our exalted creaturely status, that reflects our Creator’s character, and that enhances his glory.
But as the biblical account of our origin fades from the collective memory, or at least from the collective worldview of Western civilization—having been replaced either explicitly or implicitly in the minds of many by Darwinian evolutionary theory—that civilization becomes increasingly
less civilized. That is because evolutionary theory denies both the human status of being responsible subjects under God, as well as the human status of being dignified stewards over animals. For the Bible acknowledges a ‘solidarity of the sixth day’ between humans and animals, whereas evolutionary theory effectively removes any such distinction, equating rather than relating humans and animals. Is it any wonder, then, that the history of the twentieth-century Western world betrays the two-fold phenomenon of exalting animals and degrading humans? Can you not see such a process at work by considering radical animal-rights activists such as PETA, oppressive political systems such as those under Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and popular agendas in American culture such as the sexual revolution, abortion on demand, and euthanasia?
My friends, the biblical worldview elevates humanity by affirming human responsibility, human dignity, and most of all, human life itself! Sadly, if you’ll look seriously and honestly at the recent history and present predicament of the Western world, I think you’ll find that alternatives to the biblical worldview have served to dehumanize humanity, and render civilization less civilized.
For more help on this subject see: Being Christian