Made In God's Image

May 14, 2000 / Genesis 1:27-28

In the three Sundays before Billy Graham comes to Nashville, I want to remind us of the importance of preaching Jesus and get as many of us as I can into a mindset to be at Adelphia Coliseum – and to take our unsaved friends with us. I will be affirming three things on those three Lord’s Days: the value of every soul, how much God loves people, and how close and available Jesus is to all of us. Today let’s get clear about how valuable people are to God – and how valuable they ought to be to us.

Given who I am and what I do, I am always meeting people. Fortunately, many of those people remain in my life for extended periods of time and become friends. But I meet a number of people each week for the first time and perhaps for the only time our paths will ever cross.

Then there are the people you and I run into during the course of a routine day. We hand money to a store clerk or step aside to let someone off the elevator at a hospital. A phone call comes – perhaps it’s even a wrong number! You’re in a crowd at a concert or ballgame. Or you sit in a room filled with people when you attend a worship assembly.

If you understand and believe what the Bible says about people, you’ll make an attempt to treat each of those persons – whether close friend, clerk at the store, or total stranger whose eyes you meet at an intersection – with respect. You’ll affirm the worth and dignity of everyone. And you will hate things that strip away human dignity.

A Biblical View of Humankind

The Bible nowhere considers men and women to be animals who have metamorphosed into human beings. To the contrary, the Bible teaches that human beings are unique in all creation because we alone are made in the likeness of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Furthermore, males and females of the human race have been given dominion over the created order – including animals. “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,” God told the original human pair, “and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28b). In spite of our failure to honor our likeness to God in every setting and though we have frequently misused our God-given power over creation, humans are still capable of behaving so as to display their resemblance to God.

People who don’t know the Bible very well sometimes assume that the Christian view of things denigrates humankind, that it holds men and women to be worthless, vulgar, and insignificant. Perhaps because they know the Bible teaches that humans have sinned and need redemption, they assume a scowling God who holds humans in contempt. Perhaps they’ve even heard things from some Christian preachers or theologians that say as much.

To the contrary, it is the extremely high value he places on human beings that has caused God to care about us in our sinfulness and to go to such great lengths for our redemption. A worthless trinket that breaks or annoys you goes into the trash, but something as valuable as your car or new dress that has significant money invested in its gets repaired and salvaged. Humans are not “worthless trinkets” in the divine scheme of things. God has a great deal invested in what we call homo sapiens and is unwilling to let a single member of the race perish without attempting to rescue her (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). God’s own image and likeness are invested in every last one of us.

Tell That Man Who He Is!

In September of 1997, the Associated Press carried a brief note about a marvelous child rescue. A homeless man in New York City saved the life of a two-year-old boy whose house was on fire. The man talked Sonya Lopez into throwing her son down to him when the mother and her baby were trapped in their burning house.

John Byrnes was walking past the two-family house in Queens when he saw smoke and started to bang on the door to alert anybody who might be inside. When Ms. Lopez came to a second-floor window, he screamed, “Throw me your child!” He caught 27-pound Justin in his arms and then helped put a ladder to the window and get the woman down. The infant wasn’t hurt at all, and his mother was treated for smoke inhalation and released from the hospital.

John Byrnes, 45, had been a homeless alcoholic for two years when this happened. In his own words, he was a “drunken bum.” I hope somebody got in John Byrnes’ face that day and told him who he really is.

Maybe Sonya Lopez told him what he looked like through her eyes. Do you think he was just a drunken bum to her that day? Not on your life! He was a certified hero. He saved her son’s life and hers. Yet this is the best he could say for himself that day: “Drunk as I am, I knew what to do right then and there.”

Do you know why people like John Byrnes do heroic things? They do them because they are made in the image and likeness of God. Like a coin whose image has been defaced, any one of us may disfigure and mar the likeness to God in his life. Alcoholism or a dozen other things that come to mind quickly can convince us what sorry, inadequate, and unworthy persons we are. We hear people attach labels to us. Worse still, we accept those labels – stupid, drunken bum, liar, con, unimportant, contemptible.

My theory is that the day he saved the lives of a baby and his mother should have changed John Byrnes’ self-image. But I wonder how long he has been told he is worthless? How many times has he been called a bum because he is homeless and dirty and smells bad? And what has his alcoholism cost him in terms of the view he has of himself?

Maybe the only way to avoid or to change a terrible self-image is to have people who really care about you to remind you constantly of your worth in their eyes. Parents, hear this about your children! Mates, hear it about your spouses! Hear it about anyone whose welfare and happiness you value.

God’s strategy across the centuries has been to remind you of your worth in his eyes. So Scripture not only begins with words about God creating us in his own image and likeness but returns to that theme again and again. How long has it been since you’ve read this psalm?

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psa. 8).

The question lodged halfway through this psalm haunts us all: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Why, David knew practically nothing of the vastness of space as we have come to understand it. Yet even he was forced to ask how we could believe a God great enough to create the heavens could care about insignificant and tiny human beings. One of the most fundamental of all the revelations found in the Bible is that beings in God’s image are anything but unimportant and meaningless.

And in case you missed it in his words, he said it one last time in giving Jesus to die for you. No matter the label someone may have stuck on you, heaven says you’re worth dying for!

Kyle’s Story

Some of you have read this story from Internet postings. It is anonymous and most likely apocryphal as well. At the very least, though, it is a wonderful parable about human worth and dignity. And I know versions of this story that have names I can pronounce attached to them. Rather than tell you one whose bearer might be in this room with us, let me simply tell you Kyle’s story.

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, "Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd." I had quite a weekend planned – parties and a football game with my friends Saturday afternoon – so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So I jogged over to him and, as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, "Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives." He looked at me and said, "Hey, thanks!" There was a big smile on his face.

It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him.

Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, "Boy, you're gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!" He just laughed and handed me half the books.

Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we both began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship. Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.

On graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me, and all the girls loved him!

Sometimes I was jealous. Today was not one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So I smacked him on the back and said, "Hey, big guy, you'll be great!" He looked at me with one of those looks – the really grateful ones – and smiled. "Thanks," he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat and began.

"Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach – but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give. I am going to tell you a story."

I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. "Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."

I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth.

Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life – for better or for worse. God puts us all in each other's lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.

The Personal Challenge

The challenge to each of us is to believe this truth about being in God’s image for himself and then to communicate it to others.

First, believe it for yourself. To make yourself “god” of your own little selfish domain is to become a devil! But it is equally diabolical to think so little of yourself that your life can be given over to sensual, evil things that dishonor your likeness to God. So let God be God, and worship him. But offer him the worship of one who understands that he or she is but a little lower than the “heavenly beings” (i.e., angels) or perhaps this should even be translated to say that a human being is but a little lower than “God” (Heb, elohim). Little lower than God himself, we have been made to represent him in this world, to reflect his nature, and to live in relationship with him.

Second, communicate it to others. Your children, mates, and friends? Of course. But mere acquaintances, strangers, and even enemies. Those most like you and those most unlike you. And what better way to affirm the value, worth, and dignity of another human being than to share the gospel with her and lead her to a saving knowledge of Jesus?

That our dearest friends, strangers, and even our enemies are in God’s likeness is why such things as racism and sexism are wrong. It is why compassion and charity are meaningful. It is why Christians oppose such things as violence, pornography, and child abuse. It is why we shelter battered women and abandoned children, visit the sick, and feed the hungry.

When one of these people expresses some degree of astonishment that someone would care about him or do something for her, it is enough to answer: “You are made in the image of God and worth more than all the world to him – and us.” And if one of them should protest that he is “unworthy” of anybody’s concern or “too messed up” for anybody to care about or “too bad” to deserve help, it is right to say: “Nobody in God’s image is worthless, and you are important to us because of your Father’s image in you.”

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