There’s a series on BioLogos at the moment, by Joshua Moritz, on the real meaning of the imago dei. Moritz is a significant scholar in the science and faith field, so one detects the influence of Ted Davis in his recruitment as an author. The basic thesis is that the “image” is, on textual and ANE grounds, best seen in relational, rather than ontological terms. Man is appointed as God’s representative on earth, with a priestly function in bringing all things together in God’s presence. He is elect but not primarily for his own sake (Moritz argues a parallel with election to salvation by grace, which, he says, is also primarily in order to benefit others).
The flip side of this is that the ontological view of “image”, in terms of innate characteristics like reason, spiritual capacity and so on, is really extraneous to the discussion. The essence of mankind is his election by grace, not his superiority by creation.
Now it happens that I’m very sympathetic both to a “representative” view of image, and to the aspect of election as being for the good of others rather than simply the privilege of the chosen. The first aspect fits very well with the idea of mankind as a living temple-image in the cosmic temple of Genesis 1, manifesting God’s rule and presence on earth. Moritz doesn’t really refer to this, but does to the similar example, in the ANE, of the images of kings set up to much the same purpose in far-flung outposts of empire.
The second aspect fits my view of Adam’s role (emphasised in recent work by John Walton) as a chosen representative to bring God’s blessing to the human race as a whole. It also fits the ideas of Israel as a nation of priests to bring blessing to the nations, of David the king chosen by grace for an everlasting dynasty on behalf of God’s people, and of believers chosen to be “a kingdom and priests” to reconcile humanity, and by extension the cosmos, to God in Christ.
That’s all pretty uncontroversial, then, even though these may be aspects that are under-emphasised in many Christians’ thought. But my few comments on the thread (eliciting a very long reply from Dr Moritz) were to the effect that man’s appointment by grace was being stressed at the expense of an equally significant biblical strand about man’s ontological uniqueness. And election on behalf of others (meaning, in the BioLogos discussion, “all creatures in the cosmos”) similarly fails to account for the biblical counterbalance of God’s subjection of the cosmos for the sake of the elect.
The context of this theological discussion, of course, is the whole BioLogos project: the subtext is the question of man’s evolution. By stressing election rather than ontology, Moritz specifically suggests that nothing in man’s nature is other than quantitatively different from what is seen in animals. For example, he rejects dualistic accounts involving concepts of “the soul”, using some reasonable arguments from Hebrew language and so on – but largely ignoring the large body of philosophical opinion on the immaterial quality of mind. “Christian materialism” after the manner of Nancey Murphy seems to be taken as a given, which is very far from true. The separation of biology from religion, then, is a big part of the agenda here, the first being allocated to naturalistic science, and the second to relational, or maybe forensic, theology.
But deep arguments aside, it sometimes pays just to step back and look at the big picture being painted. In terms of human creation, we are being told, mankind is just a particular animal species chosen by God for special service. A look at even my typical day calls that into severe question.
I’m usually partly awakened by sensing my wife getting out of bed. Here are two anomalies for a start: I am bound to a female for life not by instinct, nor even solely by choice, but by covenant relationship. And we sleep in a manufactured bed. She wakes me properly with a hot coffee, usually with a perennial joke about my pretending to be asleep. Do badger males get that, I wonder? I drink my coffee whilst contemplating the beauty of the view and predicting the day’s weather. Then I get up – on to two legs, unlike most animals – even my first waking action is exceptional. There’s a separate room where I wash using various toiletries – not many animals consider hygiene, and I’m not sure my dog’s rolling in fox dung has the same cosmetic function.
Some animals store food, but it wasn’t manufactured from cultivated wheat like my cerial, nor eaten with the milk of another mammal species. And I’m willing to bet that none of those animals listen to the world news whilst they’re breakfasting. Nor do they wash up their plate and spoon afterwards.
Nobody would imagine any animal taking time out then to read the Bible and pray to their Creator and Saviour about the day, but it’s not uncommon with humans. Nobody expects animals to switch on the computer either – but even the reason I do so is, in evolutionary terms, unheard of. I exchange e-mails with my distant brother daily, to encourage him in caring for our elderly mother with dementia. Which animals take such care of their parents? Or feel unease if they’re too far away to do more? Or experience existential doubts about the whole situation? After that, I’m picking up on my interest in faith and science matters – maybe trying to blog new ideas, or old ideas in a slightly new way. Or I might be creating music for someone else’s future entertainment – even the humpbacks don’t practise in private.
And while I’m doing that, Jake the black labrador wanders in simply to renew his affection for the leader of his adoptive pack – not many animals show family affection with another species, but it wasn’t the dog’s idea. Ants may nurture aphids for food as I keep chickens for eggs – but they don’t spare much thought for protecting them from predators. And they don’t keep ponies to improve their mobility – let alone purely for recreation, as my wife does.
I could carry on writing about my day – but the first hour is enough to suggest that pretty well all of it has little parallel in the rest of the animal kingdom. Moritz pointed out to another commenter that advanced human technology is a poor indicator of ontological uniqueness, since simple cultures are far less sophisticated. But were an Australian aboriginal in the outback to recount his day, it would still involve speech, hunting by fire and weapon, walkabout, the dream-time, dance, music and art. And if we’re talking about the image of God, we’re talking about human origins (in the terms of Genesis) in neolithic times. To invoke biological speciation is to beg the question: the Bible does not say that adam evolved uniquely, but that we are created uniquely.
Blaise Pascal, I think, spoke wisely on this:
It is dangerous to explain too clearly to man how like he is to the animals without pointing out his greatness. It is also dangerous to make too much of his greatness without his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both, but it is most valuable to represent both to him. Man must not be allowed to believe that he is equal either to animals or to angels, nor to be unaware of either, but he must know both.