I received a batch of photos from my brother. I searched the internet and found that they were originally published by GConnect Magazine, on July 11. They beautifully tell the rest of the Thai Cave Rescue story, about all the volunteers who generously joined in the rescue effort that brings out the best in humanity. I know this fallen world often causes us grief when we see all the selfishness, pride, greed, deceit, debauchery and other evils happening around us, but sometimes, just sometimes, we see glimpses of the image of God in people. That image is marred, but not totally eradicated, which gives us hope that all is not lost. In times of crisis God awakens our souls to prod us to go on, to carry His message to all people until He returns. The photos and captions are self-explanatory. So, with credit to GConnect, here’s the rest of the story.
image of God
To Abort or Not Abort?
Q. A church sister’s non-Christian relative is pregnant. The doctor told her the baby has congenital heart disease and will be born blind. Even if the baby survives infancy she will have lots of health problems throughout her life. He advised her to abort the fetus. What is your pastoral advice?
A. This is a very difficult ethical issue, especially when the parents are unbelievers and not expected to accept biblical principles in making decisions. The doctor is looking at the burden on the parents who might be facing a “life sentence” in raising a child with so many problems. There is also the cost to society in paying for medical bills. Abortion seems to offer a convenient way out.
The sister knows the sanctity of life. Even though the child is going to be problem-prone, she is still made in the image of God. We know abortion is wrong when the considerations are the parents’ lifestyle and pocket-book, but what about the child’s health problems? How does quality of life factor in? And why would God allow something like this to happen? What good can possibly come out of it?
Since prenatal diagnosis are only possible with medical advances made within the last few decades, there are simply no biblical precedents as to what to do when we know the fetus is going to encounter problems. All we have to go on are biblical principles and contemporary examples of life having fantastic value despite suffering severe handicaps from birth.
I can think of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, but became an evangelist sharing his message of hope to over 6 million people in 57 countries:
Or Patrick Henry Hughes, who was born without eyes and unable to fully straighten his arms and legs, making him unable to walk. But with his father’s help he overcame incredible odds and became a multi-instrumental musician and public speaker:
Had their parents chosen abortion, the world would have been robbed of tremendous motivation which we all need.
The counter-argument is that most people are not like them, who many consider to be rare examples out-of-reach of ordinary folks. I agree they are our models in the minority, but there are many other less well-known folks who are fighting valiantly despite overwhelming odds against them. I recall cases of babies born without brains:
In this case the heroes are the parents, whose faith sustained them.
What if the baby dies soon after birth? What’s the point in that heartbreak? Even then a super-brave mom sees the silver lining in donating the healthy organs to save other young lives:
Of course I’m not the parents staring at a potentially bleak future, and unbelievers do not see the situation with a Christian worldview. But since I was asked I offer my humble opinion from a pastor’s perspective. Leave the life choice to God. He gives life in whatever form He chooses, only He has the right to take it. We ask for grace to carry through, as the brave parents have.
I watched “The Martian” on streaming TV before the New Year countdown. My wife thought it was boring and left 20 minutes into the movie. I thought it was interesting and thought-provoking. The story is a simple “Robinson Crusoe” type with one astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) left for dead on Mars when his crew encountered a sand storm and had to abort the mission to escape. However, he survived but had no means of communicating with his team nor NASA. With limited water and food supply and four years before the next mission to Mars, he had to find means to survive until his rescue, if they come for him at all. The story appealed to me. Here’s why:
1. A positive outlook on life in the face of overwhelming challenges. Let me quote from Watney’s monologue, “If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the hab (his Mars habitat station) breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. … At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
I wish we Christians would learn from this attitude. Often when we encounter difficulties, we lament why is this happening to us as if God had short-changed our entitlement. We failed to learn from Paul or Peter, who knew He is testing and training us so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies (2 Co 4:10):
• 2 Co 4:8-9 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
• 1 Pet 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;
The one big difference is that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Co 4:7). And the sooner we learn this the more the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Co 4:11).
2. A positive view of man made in God’s image despite our fallen state. Again let me quote, “Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception.”
I am not naive enough to ignore the total depravity of man – there are people who just don’t care – but God’s image, while marred because of sin, is not completely effaced in man. That’s why Gen 9:6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man” still applies. That’s why we are called to “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27, 35), even those who hate and persecute us.
3. There is a cause bigger than yourself. Watney entrusted this message to his commander to convey to his parents if he couldn’t make it back to earth alive, “Tell them I am dying for something bigger myself, that I love doing.”
Some people would die for money, others glory and fame, or power, or pleasure. But none of these things really matter from the perspective of eternity:
• Phil 3:7-8 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
What are you living and dying for? That’s a good question to ponder as you begin 2016. I hope we all make our lives worthy. Altogether a good movie for the human spirit. I recommend it.
Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”
We attended the live-radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” hosted by our church. It’s a classic Christmas movie (1946) about “an angel who helped a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed.” (For those who do not know the storyline, please refer to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/) The story held our attention and the performance was very good, but I left with mixed feelings about the plot.
On the one hand, I like the theme “No man is a failure who has friends. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Not many of us are wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Co 1:26), but all of us have friends. What we have given away have left a mark, great or small, on their lives. Had we never existed, our friends’ lives would have been different by virtue of the fact that our impact would have been absent.
I thought back over the last few decades. A lot of the things I did would not amount to much. Whatever trophies or awards I earned in school or university had long been forgotten, as soon as the next school year came along and there were new students competing for those top spots. What achievements I had with my employers were a thing of the past too, as everyone’s attention quickly refocused on the latest quarterly and annual results. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. (Eccle 1:2; 12:8)
However, if I had never been born, for sure I would not have any children or grandchildren! And they are important! Even though I had not done anything great according to the world’s standards, I shared the gospel with quite a few, and by God’s grace some did trust and follow the Lord. Many I did not have the opportunity to meet again, but I expect to see them again the other side of heaven. Had I not existed, I guess the Lord would have used others to lead them to Himself, but I’m glad I was there at the right time and place and obedient in carrying the message. To me that’s significant! So I’m thankful for the play’s reminder to reflect on what matters in life.
On the other hand, I am bothered by the play’s utilitarian value system. What if, unlike the story’s hero, I had not saved anyone life? Or contributed to society’s well-being by stopping evil oppressors in their tracks? What if I am just an ordinary citizen trying hard to make ends meet? Or perhaps I was born physically or mentally challenged? Does that mean my life has little value because I had not influenced others for the better? I don’t think so. Even with all the disadvantages and looked down by the world, I would still be fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). I would still be made in God’s image, a child of God and precious in His sight.
So I have mixed feelings about the play. But I suppose that’s the best I can expect from humanitarian philosophy – good from today’s moral decline perspective, but far short of God’s ideal. That’s why we need to share the gospel to as many as we can as best as we can. Other things pale in comparison.
Image of God
Q. What does “we are created in God’s image” mean?
A. The phrase “image of God” appears only three times in the NASB but is not explicitly defined:
• Gen 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
• Gen 9:6 Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
• 2 Co 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Whatever it means, it could NOT be referring to physical appearance as God is spirit and does not have flesh and bones:
• Jn 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
• Lk 24:39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Though undefined, there are clues:
1. “Image” and “likeness” are used interchangeably;
• Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; …
• Gen 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.
• Jas 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
2. Christ is the ultimate image of God.
• Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Also 2 Co 4:4)
Theologians have therefore suggested possibilities based on God’s attributes. For example,
• God is Creator (Gen 1:1). Since we are created in His image, we are creative.
• God communicates (Jn 1:1); therefore we communicate too.
• God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Being created in His likeness, we are loving.
While it is true that we are like God in some, though not all, of His attributes, I am not fully satisfied that this is the answer, because many animals have some of these characteristics too e.g. intelligence, loving their young, even though they are NOT made in God’s image.
Furthermore, these are based on our deduction, not directly stated in Scripture. Accordingly I believe the stronger clues lie in Christ as the image of God, the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:3):
• 1 Co 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
• Eph 4:24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
I believe the image of God consists of wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, among other attributes. I did not include redemption because it is unique to our Savior.
• Wisdom is a moral rather than an intellectual quality. To be wise is to fear God. To be foolish is to be godless. Animals can be intelligent, but they are not wise. No animals ever worship God. Only humans do.
• Righteousness is the character or quality of being right or just; being in a right relationship with God. Man can be righteous or unrighteous, but not animals.
• Holiness is being separated unto God, from evil things and ways. Again, sanctification applies primarily to man, though it is also used of sacrificial animals and objects dedicated to God’s use.
My opinion is that these constitute the major component of the image of God, among other elements such as morality, decision-making, aesthetics which are also true of man but not animals, but are not directly cited in the Bible. I believe these form part of the glory of God and are embodied in His image:
• 1 Co 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Hope this helps.