In a recent blog entry entitled ‘In god's image? Yeah, that'll be right...’ a friend comments that ‘I firmly believe that the entire "man is made in the image of God, animals are not" view is nothing more than complete arrogance on our part’. Now I happen to believe that the imago dei is one of the fundamental biblical metaphors which Christian theology must use to build up a Christian understanding of human nature. Does that make me arrogant?
I readily admit that many Christians over the past two millennia have unthinkingly added ‘animals are not’ to the belief that ‘man is made in the image of God’, but you won’t find that rider in the Bible. More importantly, I think the very location of the statement about being made in God’s image subverts any attempt to use it as a basis for asserting our superiority over other creatures. It comes before the story of the Fall. So, in some primordial paradise, humankind imaged God. Looking at ourselves honestly today (post Auschwitz, post Hiroshima, etc.), we can only say that if we reflect God in any way, we are a distorting mirror.
What then is the imago dei? In light of the realities of human nature revealed by the atrocities of the twentieth century, it is certainly not a statement of fact; not something which encourages complacency or arrogance. For a Christian, it can only be a call from God; a challenge to reflect in our daily lives something of God.
And if you still think that is arrogant, consider how God is revealed in the New Testament. God is not revealed as a Greek tyrant or an oriental potentate, but as a common member of an oppressed people; not someone who demands worship of his followers, but rather who gives of himself generously to all who come to him. And ultimately he gives to the point of death and beyond.
That doesn’t make me feel superior to anyone or anything. No, it scares me!