Friday, August 26, 2011

"Lost With the Fall": The Image of God in the Book of Genesis

In my last post, I discussed the assumption of the immortality of the soul. I demonstrated that the soul is immortal not because of a devised scheme to believe something that is contra-biblical; rather, the doctrine has biblical warrant because of the never-ending consciousness of human beings. Those who are accepted into glory and those who are rejected and cast into the lake of fire will undergo a conscious experience of the afterlife---whether to bliss or to torment. If consciousness endures beyond mortal life, then it cannot be mortal---for, if it were, it would die with the human body. Because it outlives mortality, it must be “immortal.” There is simply no other label to attach to it.

In this post, though, I am going to ask and answer a simple question: “Was the image of God lost with the fall?”. To answer this question, I will let Edward Fudge speak:

Many evangelical scholars now point out that while mankind is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), immortality is no more an essential quality of God than omnipotence or omniscience. They note that even if the image of God included immortality, that quality might have been lost with the fall, for Adam ‘begat a son in his own likeness, after his image’ (Gen. 5:3)” (Edward William Fudge, “Humankind in Biblical Perspective,” The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011. Kindle edition).

Was the image of God lost with the fall? If one looks at Genesis 5:3, it seems true. After all, Genesis 5:3 does say that Seth took was made in the image of Adam. However, to argue this interpretation from Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:3 is to stop too soon in the story. The problem with such an interpretation is that it fails to take into account the words of the Lord God in Genesis 9---

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6, NASB).

The Lord speaks this after the flood, which comes some four chapters after the fall of Genesis 3. Yet and still, God deemed the image of God in man to be of significant worth, such that, should one human kill another, the killer’s own life would be taken from him. Why? Because to attack humanity would be equal to attacking God...and vengeance would be delivered by the Lord Himself.

The apostle James uses the same concept of the image/likeness in his discussion of the tongue and its cursing and blessing:

“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God” (James 3:8-9).

James’ point here is that we honor the Father with the tongue, but His humanity, bearing His likeness, is cursed by the tongue. Why is this so horrific? Because on one hand, humanity blesses God, and on the other hand, they curse God (because they curse His creation; to curse His creation is to curse God Himself). How then, can one bless God and curse God all at the same time with the same tongue? It makes all the more sense then, for James to go on to say, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10). As one can see here, the likeness of God that humans bear is considered to be so special, so sacred here, that to curse humanity is to curse God. So bearing the likeness of God (and/or the image) is no small thing indeed!

Why is all of this significant? Because it is the image of God (and the likeness) that is being attacked in annihilationism. Conditional immortalists claim that the image was lost in the fall, but if it was, why do we find a New Testament apostle (James) referring to the image and likeness? Why, if it was eliminated in the fall, would it have mattered around the time of the birth of the New Testament church? It seems that both “the image was lost” and “the image still exists” cannot both be right. As for me, I’d cast my vote with the latter of the two propositions.

I think that there is something to the discussion of the image of God, however; if one can claim that the image of God was lost in the fall, then annihilationism makes sense: because humanity lost the image of God, humanity thus lost the immortal component of themselves and now cease to be at death (should they die without salvation). What if, however, the image of God continues to exist even after the fall? If it does, then all men are made for a conscious eternity. And I think it is the image of God that most does damage to the annihilationist camp. Stay tuned; there is more on the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment to come.

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