We Are Statues of God, Not Talking Monkeys

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What does it mean to be human?

Probably the oldest question known to man, one a Stanford political scientist tried to answer. In Our Post-Human Future, Francis Fukuyama cautioned against altering human nature through biotechnology. The reason? “[T]here is something unique about the human race that entitles every member of the species to a higher moral status than the rest of the natural world.”

He suggests I have a higher moral status than my family dog, Zoe, because of a biological “qualitative leap” in my distant ancestors’ development. This random-chance leap is what gives us dignity, a higher moral status above other beings. He calls this uniqueness “Factor X.”

This “factor” isn’t spiritual, religious, theistic. It’s a genetic and biological quality that was inserted into humanity at some point during the evolutionary process from monkey to human.

This, of course, reflects the scientific worldview. Science Story. Contra the Science Story, the Scripture Story explains Factor X very differently:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness . . . ” (Genesis 1:26)

According to vintage Christianity, Factor X is what we call the Imago Dei.

Like others before him, Protestant Reformer John Calvin believed we are unique because we’ve been created in the image of God. Humanity was made to participate in “the divine wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness, and truth” (Institutes of the Christian Religion) because we were crafted after the Creator of the universe.

Vintage Christians believe we don’t have worth and dignity because we possess a certain highly evolved gene or some bio-social trait. We are valuable, we have worth and dignity, because we are Statues of God.

Stop for a moment. Let that sink in. You have been created in God’s image and likeness. Your mom and brother, boss and neighbor, enemy and friend are molded in the likeness of the Creator.

Stunning. Breathtaking. No words.

The vintage Christian faith reminds me we didn’t just happen. We are not a more advanced version in a long line of other bipedal creatures.

I am not a talking monkey!

I am not a creative, productive bundle of cells and sparking neurotransmitters. No. I am an image of God, a statue created in his likeness. So are you.

But what does it mean to say that we are made in God’s image and likeness?

At some level this is deeply mysterious. But Genesis 5:1–3 gives us a clue:

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Consider the traits parents pass along to their child. They reason, make moral choices, have a conscience, have emotions, create, communicate, and form relationships — just like Mom and Dad. Genesis 5 seems to say what makes us uniquely human in some way reflects our Creator, like a child reflects her parent.

Those tender moments between you and your spouse or times your friends really supported you are in some way like the relational dynamics of Father, Son, Spirit.

The times of rip-roaring laughter around a table at the pub after a well-timed punchline in some way reflects the cleverness and wit of God.

How you creatively express yourself through music or clothes, writing or sculpting, or any number of creative things somehow reflects the Creator himself.

Consider the rage someone feels in the face of injustice or the inner-movement of the soul after hearing a Bach concerto. We feel and experience emotion because God is emotive.

Also, consider our gender. Swiss theologian Karl Barth emphasized that human existence as male and female is not something secondary to the Image, it’s fundamental to being created in God’s likeness. There is a masculine side and a feminine side to humanity because that’s what God is like. Gender and sexuality aren’t human constructs — they reflect God himself.

Fukuyama is right: there is a Factor X that sets us apart from animals and mildew.

That factor is God, which has massive implications for our human story!

It matters for the 12 year old Thai girls that American businessmen use for personal pleasure.

It matters for the men and women who bake in the heat of Washington, D.C. summers.

It matters for the Dalits, the millions of “untouchables” who suffocate under the oppressive wet blanket of India’s caste system and are regarded as less than the roaming street cattle.

It matters for the millions of Romanian orphans who fill entire hospital wards like caged rabbits and enter a life of prostitution and organized crime because they’re illiterate, nonfunctioning societal throwaways.

Every person on the planet matters because everyone bears the image of the very Creator who crafted them from the ground on which they walk.

We are not talking monkeys. We are statues of God.

That’s what it means to be human.

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the “vintage” Christian faith. I invite you to rediscover in the coming months what it means to be a vintage Christian.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.

  • Šimon Leška

    Are you serious what about DNA? You dont see how people change through centuries? You cannot deny that. Why is it so good to believe in God, when he caused so much pain and suffering?

  • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

    That’s not breathtaking, it’s nonsense. There’s no reason to believe it’s true and even it if were it wouldn’t be relevant; does a child have higher moral stature if they look more like their parent? What are you saying then about adopted children of a different race?

    There is no X Factor, we are not a priori morally elevated from other animals. Animals are morally distinct from one another by their capacity to experience, so while a human has elevated moral relevance compared to a nematode we do not compared to a bonobo or chimp.

  • Boris Tolkachev

    The rhetoric you preach about is pure non-sense. You simple ASERT facts without ANY…not one smidgeon of proof. Your quick-reach for the (good book) to back-up this diarrhea of (BS) is simply unconscionably considering this book is fiction! The only way you survive is to pound upon the old & the sick… selling your snake-oil as a way of living past their death(s). Should my I.Q. fall below forty; maybe I could then conclude you are smarter than the average bear who will never understand the function of an [out-house]. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Boris Tolkachev

    You preach about the goodness of God. Why is it so good for anyone to believe in God? What say you about the 130,000 children smashed to bits by the Tsunami hitting those islands off the coast of Thailand some years ago? Do you think maybe God [called
    them home] because he needed lots of help with all the many chores needing attention behind the pearly gates? Why did the church order the killing, (murder) of thousands like Giordano Bruno? What rationale God would condone the kidnaping of thousands of six (yo) kids like Edgardo Levi Mortara? Religion: what a scourge of unadulterated (BS) you spray in the paths of people; intended only to con them of their money and property! Maybe you should consider a real job: [driving a garbage truck!]