Christianity struggles with the battle of extremes regarding the nature of man, whether it be basically good or evil. The world conceives of man as basically good. One writer expressed it the worldly perspective well. "Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness. We are true and right, but often ignorant and stupid, acting out of the pain of our wrongheadedness, hurting ourselves, others, and even all creation. Blind, not depraved is our condition." (from Lies We Believe About God by Wm. Paul Young, collected from http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/what-does-the-shack-really-teach-read-lies-we-believe-about-god) The world tells us that no matter how poorly people err in our thinking or behavior, we are, at heart, good and want to do good. How such a naive concept still persists in this world boggles the mind. If the world truly thinks this way, the modern American practice of demonization constitutes a direct contradiction to this idea. Half of the nation think the other half seek to destroy the country, and the other half return the favor. Each remains convinced that their political opponents are basically evil.
On the other hand, the church has proclaimed the total depravity of man. The Bible teaches that man is basically evil. We appreciate the disastrous effects of the fall. We quote verses like, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) We proclaim that even the plowing of the wicked is sin. (Proverbs 21:4) Man can do nothing to make himself right with God.
The extent of man's depravity, we will examine later. Here, we want to inject a modicum of balance. Man is not basically good, but man's depravity does not alone express the whole story. The Bible teaches that man was created good. He was made in the image of God.
The concept of creation in the image of God appears in the creation narrative in Genesis. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:26-27) After God had created all other creatures, He chose to create man in His image. He gave this unique creature dominion over all the creation that He had made. Man was to be God's vice-governor over all the created order.
The nature of this image of God also appears in the most focused account in Genesis chapter 2. "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7) The creation story here shows the close connection between God and man. We may never know the exact nature of the "breath of life" with which God endued man. We do know that our soul comes from God. We do know that some part of God is imaged in man.
Before proceeding on, we must address the worlds false conception of man's creation. In former days, John Milton described the diabolical mindset in his epic poem, Paradise Lost. In Book 5, Satan argues with the angel Abdiel the rightness of his rebellion against God. Abdiel, the faithful angel, charges Satan with treachery against the one who created the angels. Satan responds in these words, "[W]ho saw [w]hen this creation was? [R]ememberst thou [t]hy making, while the Maker gave thee being? We know no time when we were not as now; [k]now none before us, self-begot, self-rais'd [b]y our own quick'ning power." Satan questions the argument by suggesting that the angels were not created but self-originating. None remembered their origin, so none could authoritatively claim that they were created. If they were self-originated, they owed not duty to God. To the devil, submission to the Lord based on His creation of the angels was a specious argument.
Milton's description of Satan cannot be held authentic. Milton had no revelation of God to aid him in his poetry. Instead, he took rebellious human thought and put it in the mouth of the devil. One might note with irony that a man replaced the lie in the mouth of the one who whispered it into the ear of man. As man believes this about himself, Milton puts it in the mouth of the one who likely persuaded man of its logic.
Man cannot be so mindless as to assert his own self-origination. He cannot compete with the pride of the angels. Rather, he places his origination at the hand of impersonal science, statistics, and chance. These forces create no relationship that must be honored. They impose no duty that must be fulfilled. They function as good as self-origination in the conception of man.
What man and Satan recognized was that if created, the creation must submit to the creator. If created, the creation can never hope to overthrow the creator. If created, rebellion against the creator is futile and evil. We can overthrow other created things, no matter how strong with enough manpower, time, and skill. The gods fell and continue to fall to the ingenuity of man. Rebellion against immoral tyranny does not contradict our notions of justice. Rebellion against the creator defies logic and basic morality.
Instead, the Bible reminds us that we are created beings, made in the image of God, and so responsible to imitate His character. We may not know much about the image of God, but we must conclude that it included the moral attributes of the Lord. The duty before God is summarized in the statement given to Moses. "Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy." (Lev.19:2) The Lord repeats this command in the law. (Lev. 11:44,45; 20:7,26; 21:8) It also appears in the New Testament as well. (I Peter 1:16) The moral attributes of God are part of that image imprinted in us. These we are to imitate. As we are made in the image of God, we are to imitate God. The parts of us imprinted by God only work correctly when functioning like God. The human does not work well when it attempts to operate opposed to the moral character of God. To do so is like a man trying to hammer a nail with an iPhone.
Another part of the image of God granted to man, we may call communicative rationality. As God gave man dominion over the creatures, we must assert some natural superiority to the physical creation. The evolutionary myth concerning our origin robs mankind of its dignity over the creatures. The Bible teaches that our dignity comes not from our prowess or conquest, but was given to us by God. We exercise dominion, not because we conquered creation, but because it was made for us and subservient to us.
In order to rule, God provided us with two gifts, the ability to reason, and the ability to communicate. As governors of creation under God, we are commanded to execute distinct judgment. This appears in the grant of authority to man from the Lord God. "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17) As man is granted governance of the garden of Eden and commanded to refrain from eating of a certain tree, we must conclude that man has a rationality distinct from the mind of God. This rationality has duties and responsibilities attached to it. Man cannot choose his own path without consequences, but is able to consider how best to fulfill his duty before God.
Man is also granted the ability to communicate. The evidence appears first in the communication that the Lord speaks to man. It also appears in the relationship between God and man appearing later. In the fall narrative, the man and woman hear the voice of God moving in the cool of the day. The presence of God in the garden suggests that there was ordinary conversation between God and his regent on earth. Man was never an absolute ruler, but a vice-ruler under God. Communication between man and God, man and man, man and woman, all appear within the first four chapters of the Bible. As God spoke the worlds into existence, so man shares that ability of speech as part of the image of God.
As vice-regent of the creatures, God gave man with that rationality a measure of freedom. Man's freedom cannot contradict God's sovereignty, anymore than his rule can exceed God's. Man's dominion and freedom are derivative, they come from God. Thus, they are subordinate to God. Man's freedom can never thwart God's sovereign plan, purpose, or power. Nevertheless, man is granted freedom. This freedom, we will see, he used to his own end and own hurt.
Finally, we must note the declaration of God regarding man. After the creation of man, we read, "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31a) God created man good. So the world is right, in a sense. Man was created basically good, and if the Bible contained nothing but the first two chapters of Genesis, we could agree with the world. But chapter 3 ruins the potential for conciliation. Man was made good, but did not stay good.
When we think of the principles for living Christian in an unchristian world, we can identify several from the concept of man's creation in the image of God. Unlike the world, we must understand the consequences of being created by God. We must understand that the world thinks nothing of rebellion because they are uncreated. They may think they can win against God because they were not made by Him. We cannot afford such a naive thought. As the moral attributes of God are imprinted on our nature as made in His image, so the human cannot operate properly in disobedience. Not only is disobedience insane rebellion against the Lord, but it also constitutes a malfunction of the human creature.
Man in the image of God possesses the capacity to reason. What he does with that capacity may not turn out well for reasons we will discuss later. Nevertheless, the ability to reason exists because of the image of God. Man also has the ability to communicate, a gift again that he often uses for evil instead of good. God has given man a measure of freedom created in His image. The world may take this freedom as an excuse for immorality, but the concept of freedom is in itself not evil. Coercion of one man against another ought be avoided.
Man was created good. Even in the face of the crippling damage done to that goodness, man still occasionally does something good. In the wake of the fall, in the depths of man's depravity, God ordains for us to remember the goodness of His creation in glimpses of goodness. Living Christian in an unchristian world means we cannot agree that man is basically good. However, it also means we must understand that man was created good. What happened next reminds us why we need this study at all.