Created in the Image of God

The Bible relates that humans were made in the image of God, but the Bible does not spell out exactly what that means. Immediately after creating Adam and Eve, the Bible states that they will have "dominion" over all nonhuman beings. Since God then prescribes a vegan diet for Adam, Eve, and the rest of creation, it is unreasonable to take the popular, self-serving position that "dominion" is meant to convey ruthless tyranny over all creatures.

Rather, Genesis 2 relates that Adam's task is to "till and keep" the Garden of Eden. I think this helps us understand what being created in God's image entails. Humanity, with its remarkable skills, is well-positioned to be a good steward of what God has created. Indeed, humans are distinctive in their own creativity, which provides the capacity for both resolving problems justly and nonviolently or for creating problems. Indeed, just as God was free to destroy the world with the Flood, humanity's free will gives us a choice to be healers or destroyers.

I don't see being created in God's image makes humans "better" than other living beings, and it certainly doesn't make us entitled to special privileges at the expense of others. Instead, I see it as an awesome responsibility that has the potential to give our lives direction and meaning, and also the potential to make us very effective evildoers. How we use our God-given gifts, I think, defines who we are as Christians much more than any verbal statements of faith or practices of rituals.

 Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

I completed (finally) my masters thesis, with the title: Dominion In The Image of God: How Our Relationships With Animals Reflect God's Character. The central proposition is that our creation in the image of God conveys responsibility to reflect the character of God to the world and our dominion, tied inextricably with the image, is the responsibility to reflect God's rule through our care for the animals (animals expressly, not just the earth or "nature"). The gift of dominion over the animals is given in the same verse with our creation in God's image, and we are therefore called to care for animals as God would. Our failure to do this (our institutionalized and commonplace cruelty to animals in which the church and people of faith -- wittingly or unwittingly -- are complicit) is a misrepresentation to the world about the character of God. It takes a long look at various interpretations through the ages of what it means to be created in the image of God and to have dominion, it looks at the long-standing minority voice in the Christian tradition that links kindness to animals to holiness of character, it considers various verses in the OT and NT regarding animals to demonstrate God's own concern for them, and it examines why environmental theologies, as they are generally understood, while helpful, are insufficient to address our obligations to care for our fellow sentient creatures. It also addresses what modern science is teaching us about the awareness, intelligence, and ability to suffer of animals and then looks at some issues such as factory farming, animal testing, animals in entertainment and the like and suggests ways that churches can make a difference in the lives of animals by taking small steps first.

It's fairly wide-ranging, and every time I look at it, I see ways I could make it better, but the good news is that my professor read the draft, had only a few comments, and asked me to make my changes quickly because she wanted to send the final version to some scholars at another seminary who are writing a ecological theology textbook and she thought they would benefit from some of my thinking. I was very encouraged by that! I have various ideas about how to use this as a platform to produce materials that might be helpful to various churches. Now I just need the time and the perseverance to follow through!

 As you say, Rebecca, the misconception of "dominion," and, I would argue, how that is related to what it means to be created in the image of God, is central to the church's failure to take up what I believe is among our first callings in scripture: to reflect the character of God to the world, that is to show the world who God is, by treating those He placed in our care with compassion and mercy. (With God, power -- that is, dominion -- always comes with responsibilities rather than rights.) I believe this is a critical message to the church -- since understanding our creation in the image of God has long been considered central to who we are as human beings in relationship with God. I believe that this approach is important in understanding why theological concerns about animals cannot be dismissed as trivial.

Lois Wye

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