Category Archives: Imago Dei

“Idolatry is trying to play God to one’s gods” by J.I. Packer

“Paul’s words here endorse the consistent biblical testimony that idolatry is inexcusable. Scripture never condones idolatry on the grounds that men knew no better, but condemns it on the assumption that they did, and that irrespective of whether they had encountered any part of God’s special revelation or not (Is. xliv.10-20; Hab. ii. 18-20).

Quite so, says Paul; for it is out of general, not special, revelation that idolatry has been manufactured. Idolatry is a lie grafted on to some of the intuitions of general revelation in order to smother the rest; it was invented to provide sinners with gods they can worship while remaining their own masters. One of the contradictions of fallen human nature is the desire to be lord of what one worships.

As a creature, man yearns for a god to serve; as a sinner, he is resolved to play God himself, and demands that everything else should serve him. This explains the absurd actions of the pagan who directs acts of worship to the image he made himself (Is. xliv. 10-20), while at the same time developing techniques of sacrifice, prayer and sympathetic magic for getting his imaginary god to do what he wants (cf. 1 Ki. xvii. 25-28 with verses 36, 37, and Mt. vi. 7).

And Scripture recognizes more forms of idolatry than polytheism. It says that idolatry exists whenever man gives himself up, heart and soul, to mastering an adored object. Covetousness is thus idolatry (Col. iii. 5). So it by no means follows that sinners forsake idolatry when they abandon polytheism.

All that happens is that they change their gods. Some ‘idolize’ wealth; and Christ calls such the slaves of Mammon in just the same exclusive sense as the Christian is the servant of his God (Mt. vi. 19, 24). Others ‘idolize’ and live for ideas, ideals, a cause, power, a wife, children, country, beauty, and many other things besides.

The self-contradictory lust of sinful man to have something he can worship and master at the same time takes countless forms, each exhibiting the same pathetic ambivalence.

Trying to rule what one serves—being enslaved by what one tries to rule—trying to play God to one’s gods, and ending up the captive of them all—that is idolatry, in all its forms. It is a satanic parody of man’s original relation to his Maker, and a source of endless misery to all its practioners.”

–James I. Packer, “Some Thoughts on General Revelation,” Christian Graduate 9.3 (1956): 119.

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Filed under Christian Theology, idolatry, Idols For Destruction, Imago Dei, J.I. Packer, Puritanical, Quotable Quotes, Revelation

“Little by little” by John Calvin

“The design of the gospel is this– that the image of God, which had been effaced by sin, may be stamped anew upon us, and that the advancement of this restoration may be continually going forward in us during our whole life, because God makes His glory shine forth in us by little and little.”

–John Calvin, commenting on 2 Corinthians 3:18, in The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 187.

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“This fury to deface” by Graham Greene

“The wall of the burial-ground had fallen in: one or two crosses had been smashed by enthusiasts: an angel had lost one of its stone wings, and what gravestones were left undamaged leant at an acute angle in the long marshy grass. One image of the Mother of God had lost ears and arms and stood like a pagan Venus over the grave of some rich, forgotten timber merchant.

It was odd—this fury to deface, because, of course, you could never deface enough. If God had been like a toad, you could have rid the globe of toads, but when God was like yourself, it was no good being content with stone figures—you had to kill yourself among the graves.”

–Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (New York: Penguin, 1940), 101-2.

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“The human embryo is a human person worthy of full moral respect” by George and Tollefsen

“On January 16, 2007, a remarkable journey came to an end in Covington, Louisiana. Sixteen months earlier, Noah Benton Markham’s life had been jeopardized by the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina. Trapped in a flooded hospital in New Orleans, Noah depended upon the timely work of seven Illinois Conservation Police officers, and three Louisiana State officers who used flat–bottomed boats to rescue Noah and take him to safety.

Although many New Orleans residents tragically lost their lives in Katrina and its aftermath, Noah’s story of rescue is, nevertheless, one of many inspirational tales of heroism from that national disaster. What, then, makes it unique? And why did the story of his rescue end sixteen months after the events of September 2006? The answer is that Noah has the distinction of being one of the youngest residents of New Orleans to be saved from Katrina: when the Illinois and Louisiana police officers entered the hospital where Noah was trapped, he was an embryo, a human being in the very earliest stages of development, frozen with fourteen hundred embryos in canisters of liquid nitrogen.

Noah’s story had a happy ending: Noah’s parents were overjoyed those sixteen months later when Noah emerged, via cesarean section, into the light of the wide world. His parents named him in acknowledgment of a resourceful survivor of an earlier flood. His grandmother immediately started phoning relatives with the news: ‘It’s a boy!’ But if those officers had never made it to Noah’s hospital, or if they had abandoned those canisters of liquid nitrogen, there can be little doubt that the toll of Katrina would have been fourteen hundred human beings higher than it already was, and Noah, sadly, would have perished before having the opportunity to meet his loving family.

Let us repeat it: Noah would have perished. For it was Noah who was frozen in one of those canisters; Noah who was brought from New Orleans by boat; Noah who was subsequently implanted into his mother’s womb; and Noah who was born on January 16, 2007.

Noah started this remarkable journey as an embryo, or blastocyst—a name for a very early stage of development in a human being’s life. Noah continued that journey after implantation into his mother’s womb, growing into a fetus and finally an infant. And he will continue, we are confident, to grow into an adolescent and a teenager as he continues along the path to adulthood.

Noah’s progress in these respects is little different from that of any other member of the human race, save for the exertions necessary to save him at the very earliest stage of his life. But in later years, if Noah were to look back to that troubled time in New Orleans and ask himself whether he was rescued that day, whether it was his life that was saved, we believe that there is only one answer he could reasonably give himself: ‘Of course!’

This answer to Noah’s question is a mere two words long, yet it contains the key to one of the most morally and politically troubled issues of our day. Is it morally permissible to produce and experiment upon human embryos? Is it morally permissible to destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells for therapeutic purposes? Is it morally permissible to treat human embryos as disposable research material that may be used and destroyed to benefit others?

All such questions have the seeds of their answer in these two words. For what Noah would be saying in these two words—and his answer is confirmed by all the best science—is that human embryos are, from the very beginning, human beings, sharing an identity with, though younger than, the older human beings they will grow up to become.

Human embryos are not, that is to say, some other type of animal organism, like a dog or cat. Neither are they a part of an organism, like a heart, a kidney, or a skin cell. Nor again are they a disorganized aggregate, a mere clump of cells awaiting some magical transformation. Rather, a human embryo is a whole living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his or her natural development.

Unless severely damaged, or denied or deprived of a suitable environment, a human being in the embryonic stage will, by directing its own integral organic functioning, develop himself or herself to the next more mature developmental stage, i.e., the fetal stage. The embryonic, fetal, child, and adolescent stages are stages in the development of a determinate and enduring entity—a human being—who comes into existence as a single–celled organism (the zygote) and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood many years later.

But does this mean that the human embryo is a human person worthy of full moral respect? Must the early embryo never be used as a mere means for the benefit of others simply because it is a human being? The answer that this book proposes and defends with philosophical arguments through the course of the next several chapters is ‘Yes.'”

–Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 1-3.

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