Who am I? - Genesis 1

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 13th October 2002.

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A few years ago the journalist Bernard Levin wrote these words: 'To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die? I have not yet managed to answer that question yet, and however many years I have before me they are certainly not as many as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late.. Why do I have to know why I was born? Because, I am unable to believe it was an accident, and if it wasn't one, it must have meaning.'

But of course there are many people who do believe that life is simply an accident and attempt to apply that belief to the moral complexities of living. One such man is Dr Peter Singer who teaches ethics at Princeton University and is one of the world most influential ethicists. In his book 'Practical Ethics' he takes as his starting point what he calls 'the principle of equal consideration of interests'- that is the view that the interests of all human beings must be taken into account when assessing the consequences of an action. This principle, he argues extends to other self-conscious beings who can suffer, and only such beings can be said to have 'interests.' He puts forward the idea that human beings can be thought of in two ways-as belonging to the species Homo sapiens, or being a person. He defines a person as a 'self-conscious or rational being' who can therefore make decisions. He wants to maintain that some primates-monkeys and apes- are also self-conscious to some extent and so could be described as persons. Therefore, being a member of the species Homo sapiens is not a sufficient reason for being thought of as a person. This has very far reaching implications. It means that adult primates are persons but an new born infant is not. It is therefore not intrinsically wrong to kill an new-born baby who is not self-conscious, whereas it would be wrong to kill an ape who is supposed to be self-conscious. Singer does not suggest that new-born children should be killed if they are healthy and wanted, but that they could be if they were unhealthy and unwanted. He says that strict conditions should be placed on permissible infanticide, but, that 'these restrictions might owe more to the effects of infanticide on others than to the intrinsic wrongness of killing an infant.' Here, then, is the new King Herod.

Now this man is serious. And as the debate about euthanasia raises its head once more, this sort of view is going to be increasingly held. After all, it is consistent with the world view we looked at last week called secular materialism or WYSIWYG- 'What Your See Is What You Get'- there is no God and so no ultimate source of value.

Now when you think about it, this new view is also an old view. It is the old view of paganism .Infanticide was certainly taught be the Greeks like Plato. So what happened between the old paganism in which the ill and deformed could be left to die exposed on a hilltop and the new paganism which in some cases allows new-borns to die deprived of water and nutrients in a hospital ward? What was it that gave rise to the view that human beings were unique, had dignity and therefore were to be cared for, that there was such a thing as the sanctity of life? Well, there was of course Christianity. This is what Singer who is an atheist has to say, ' It we go back to the origins of Western civilisation, to Greek or Roman times , we find that membership of Homo sapiens was not sufficient to guarantee that one's life would be protected. Greeks and Romans killed deformed or weak infants by exposing them to the elements on a hilltop. Plato and Aristotle thought that the state should enforce the killing of deformed infants. The change in Western attitudes to infanticide since Roman times is, like the doctrine of the sanctity of human life of which it is a part, a product of Christianity. Perhaps it is now possible to think about these issues without assuming the Christian moral framework that has, for so long, prevented any fundamental reassessment.' In other words, with Christianity out of the way as a serious intellectual option, let us think the unthinkable.

This world view of Singer's may sound radical but is it realistic? But remember, while any belief however harebrained can be taught not every belief can be lived. And that goes for Singer's because he pays large sums of money to support his own mother who has Alzheimer's. He justifies this by saying that it provides work for a lot of people and so does some good. You see, he can't live with it, there is something deep inside which makes him act as if his mother is valuable even though, sadly, she is less responsive than some other primates Singer thinks should have rights. Why is that? Why does his heart contradict his head? Well, the Bible tells us why- we are created significant by an all knowing, all personal God. And so tonight we are going to explore the question ;Who am I? the question of significance, and in order to do that we are going to go back to the beginning- Genesis 1 and 2.

What is it that makes you different to say, an ape? Well, genetically there is very little difference at all. Humans and apes share 98.5% of the same. But it is that 1.5% difference which makes all the difference in the world-for what results is a creature unlike any other.

This is the way the book of Genesis puts it, 1:26-27: 'The God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.' What is the difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom? Well, it is that in some way we are, 'God- like'- made in the image of God. Now nowhere in the Bible is this ever defined for us. Since God is Spirit, it can't mean that we are physically like him- so we must get rid of those Michaelangelo ideas of God being an old man with a white beard. In fact what it means for us to be made in the image of God is given to us right here in this passage. It operates at both the level of doing and being. What are humans meant to do under God? Well, they are meant to rule- 'over the fish of the sea, birds of the air' and so on. That is, they are to reflect in some measure what God does as the loving ruler of the universe, they are to creatively care for that which he has made and owns and so they are ultimately accountable to him. But this image also shows itself in the way we are made to relate to one another - 'in the image of God he created him- male and female he created them' So as in some way God within his own being is a community of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit- notice v 26 'let us make man in our image'- and the way we relate to each other, especially in marriage, should reflect that. In others words our true significance and worth are to be found when we act like God means us to act and relate as God intends us to relate.

Let's take the matter of relationships first. I am sure some of you will have seen the film 'Cast Away' with Tom Hanks. It is about a businessman who finds himself stranded on a desert island. I can tell you it is a film which is enough to put you off flying and dentistry for life! This is no idyllic Robinson Crusoe stuff. It is harsh, dangerous and desperate. There is no human or even animal contact to be made. So what does he do? He imprints a face on a basketball which happened to be in a parcel carried by the crashed plane and calls it 'Winston'. For four years 'Winston' is the only company he has. He talks to him, he devises plans with him and even gets angry with him. This doesn't mean that he has lost it, on the contrary, having an imaginary friend in the form a face on a basketball keeps the character sane. The point is, we are only truly human in relationships with other humans so much so that in extreme circumstances we devise a substitute like Winston. Let me ask, when does that tiny little baby first feel that he or she matters? When they look up and see the sweet smiling face of the mother and all the love it radiates. It is when he or she is lovingly held, fed and cared for, then they know they are of value.

It is not good for man to be alone, we are made for community. Just take a look at that beautiful and picturesque account in chapter 2-v 18 'The LORD God said, ' It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.' And so God brings to Adam a whole variety of animals which were not suitable for they were so unlike man. He needed someone like him yet different to him, someone who would compliment him, a 'better half' -someone with whom he would feel whole, a relationship which would complete the circle of significance. And therefore we read v21 ' So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping ,he took one of the man's rib and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made woman from the rib he had taken, and he brought her to the man (like a Father presenting the bride to the groom) and the man said ' This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife ,and they shall become one flesh.' Now, it is supremely in the marriage relationship that we see a reflection of this image of God. The loving protective care the husband is meant to show to his wife and the loving obedient, support the wife shows to her husband mirrors something of the relationship between the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit- so God the Father at the baptism of Jesus affirms him and sends the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to strengthen and enable him, while the Son says in Gethsemane 'Not my will but yours' and obediently goes to the cross to save the world.

So in the community of the family and the wider community of society and especially the new community of the church we are meant to display our God-like image. The image of God is not so much something within us, but something expressed between us. So when we see a helpless but terminally ill new-born infant, what is the God -like thing to do? Isn't it to show some care and affection for that baby during its last few hours, as God the giver of life, shows care and affection to us, rather than quickly disposing of it as a worthless commodity? What about our business dealings with each other? At the moment there is a serious crisis of confidence on Wall Street following the collapse of Enron. Why? Because people feel no one can be trusted anymore, for people are willing to lie and cheat to make a quick buck. But if this life is all there is and we are just a collection of meaningless atoms then why not? But if we are made in God's image, then we are being most true to our nature when we are honest and faithful with each other as God is with us. So let me say this, if you cheat on your wife, or boyfriend or lie to get your way, then not only are your eroding the significance and dignity of the other person-and hurting them, you are demeaning yourself into the bargain, becoming less and less human. If as children you bad mouth your parents and treat them as rubbish, whose opinions don't matter; and if as parents you ride rough shod over your children and do not give treat them with the respect they deserve, then you too are being sub-human, for God the Son loves his Father and seeks to bring honour to him, and God the Father desires the highest for his Son and those like you and me his Son came to save. So let me ask: how God-like are you being in your relationships? It is all very practical isn't it?

Just turn with me to Colossians 3:9ff to see what reason Paul gives for the way we should and should not be relating as Christians. He says, 'Do not lie to each other since you have put off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.' And the he goes on to describe how that new self is expressed in how we relate, v12ff compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.' When you are being patient with someone you are being God-like, when you are compassionate ,you are being God-like. To be like God is not an ego trip, power grabbing-that is devilish, it is being self-sacrificing and kind, because that is what our God is like.

But what of that image being shown in how we rule? Take a look at chapter 2:15ff, ' The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' Now already in Chapter 1:28, mankind has received God's blessing with the God-given purpose of 'subduing the earth.' That is, while the world has been created by God and designated 'good'- just right for the purposes he intends, human beings are to be as it were God's fellow workers in taming that world, harnessing its energies and resources in a responsible way for other people's benefit and God's glory. This picture is developed in chapter 2 with the man being placed in a park, which the Kings of the ancient Near East invariably had, and as a priestly monarch he is meant to 'care' for it and work it. And this caring and working is also an expression of his Godlike image. That is why work in principle is a good thing, why we should find value and significance in what we do, whether it is paid employment or unpaid- there is dignity in both of these things. And let me say that for the wife and mother who gives of her time and energies in the home she fulfils both aspects of this Godlike image, for she is at one and the same time developing relationships and exercising creativity and rule -so as Christians lets not follow the world in looking down on women who work at home, it is a most dignified calling. But when that creativity is taken away from us, that is when we feel so devalued and that is why unemployment is such a devastating thing. Creative work is essential to our nature as human beings.

Let me tell you something. During the Second World War a commandant of a German concentration camp hit upon a most sadistic idea. He took a group of inmates, gave them shovels and sacks and made them shift a pile of sand from one spot to another. And when they had done that, they had to put it back again and this went on back and forth, day after day, week after week, month after month. Most went mad as a result ,some choosing to throw themselves onto the barb wire and be killed rather than go on. Why? It wasn't because the work was harder than what some others in the camp had to do. It was because it was meaningless, futile, having no purpose. As such it smashed the God-give image we all have. Now you may think that you are sometimes given a hard time by your teacher-all that homework-or that your lecturer or employer is a pain. Well, there will be things you have to do, which to be frank, you find boring-but if you are in a position where you can write an essay, or read a book, or dig a garden, or make a piece of furniture, or play some music, you are experiencing a fantastic divine blessing- for in some measure you are being Godlike. Now remember that next time you put pen to paper and use it as an occasion for praise,' I am worshipping God through my essay- thank you Lord.' An interesting thought isn't it? I tell you this, it will make a world of difference to your attitude to work if you do that.

And of course all of these things we see perfectly expressed in Jesus who in Colossians 1:15 is described as the 'image of the invisible God' - How ? First , it is shown by how the Son relates to the Father in humble obedience and service so in John 5:19 we read ' The Son can do nothing by himself ;he can only do what he sees his Father doing'. He is not going to do his own thing, he loves his Father ,he knows his ways are good, true and for our best so he loves doing them. Reading and obeying the Bible isn't a drag it is a delight. Secondly, Jesus relates to others in serving-through his teaching and healing and supremely his death 'I am among you as one who serves' he says. The image of God in Christ is also expressed through how he relates to the rest of creation as its ruler- hence the stilling of the storm. What Adam, God's son, was meant to be-relating properly to God, the world and other people Jesus the second Adam ,the Son of God, does perfectly.

It may well be that you are here this evening and this question, 'Who am I?' Has been eating away at you. You have been badly let down and hurt, maybe by your parents, maybe by your husband or wife, even by the church. And for some reason you feel a self-loathing, desperate to receive approval and worth. You want to feel fulfilled but if the truth be known you feel so empty. If that is you in some measure, and if we are honest it is true of us all to some degree, then here is some very good news indeed for you. In God's sight you form the pinnacle of his creation and you are precious. He invests you with a value that even the angels do not share, for you, unlike them are made in his image. Certainly that image has been marred by sin, that is why you feel as you do and why people have behaved as they have, but what God has done in his Son is to provide a way whereby that image can slowly be pieced back together. But before we can start relating properly to each other and with our inner selves, we have got to get the most important relationship put right, our relationship with our Maker. We can't reach up to him, but he reaches down to us through his Son Jesus. He died on a cross so that you could be forgiven, with the self-centredness which cuts us off from him being washed away. He is alive so that as His Holy Spirit comes into your life he gives you a fresh start so that you can know God as Father. He also puts you into a new family, the church, so that you can begin to live out your God-likeness in giving and receiving God's love with others who also know him as Father. Is that what you have? Is that what you want? If so, lets pray.

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