Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God

The idea that human beings are made in the image of God is foundational for all of Christian bioethics. Sometimes such a foundational idea becomes so much a part of how we think that it is easy to forget that it could be misunderstood in ways that are quite harmful. In his book, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, John Kilner has taken a very careful and detailed look at what the scripture says about this vital concept which has indeed been misunderstood in harmful ways at times.

Three ideas stood out to me as I read:
1. Jesus is the perfect image of God.
2. Being made in (or according to) the image of God means that human beings have a special connection to God which confers dignity on every human being.
3. We have been created with an intent that we will be a reflection of God’s glory as our ultimate destiny.

In Jesus we see what being the image of God really means. Being like Jesus is what we aspire to as we are transformed by God into what he desires for us to be.

In being made in the image of God we have a connection to God that is not lessened by the Fall. Even though we are sinful and fall far short of actually reflecting the glory of God as we are now, being an image of God is what we were made to be and that is something that gives worth to every human being no matter how much we now fall short of what were intended to be.

Human beings do have some attributes that we can manifest to a greater or lesser extent that are similar to and currently weak reflections of the attributes of God. However, those attributes have been twisted by sin and we do not reflect God very well. This does not mean that the image of God has been damaged. Jesus is that image and he reflects God perfectly in human form. It just means that our actual reflection of God’s glory awaits our final deliverance from sin and restoration to what God intended us to be.

Understanding these things about our being made in the image of God helps us to avoid misunderstandings that have been destructive at times in the past. Some have looked at how sin has made us so much less that we were intended to be and have thought that meant that the image of God in us had been lost or damaged. If that is true then being made in the image of God loses its ability to teach us that every human being has been given a dignity that should lead us to respect the value of every human being. When we see that the image of God has not been harmed by sin and it is still what God desires each of us to be and has provided the way for us to be through Jesus, then being made in the image of God retains its power to be the foundation of Christian bioethics.

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John Kilner

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks, Steve, for helping digest this material for us!