Based on a talk by John Lennox, at the Keswick Convention 2013. He is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a lecturer at the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics
One of the most important statements in all the world's literature is Genesis 1:27; "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them".
We have seen how the creation is a stepwise process, that God did not create everything at once. There is a series of ascending steps - the days - that lead to the pinnacle of God's creation: human beings in his image. The text is not simply giving us info about how the universe came to exist – it's also saying why it came to exist.
Listen to St Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 " For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ".
This is gigantic, because it's comparing what happened in the distant dawn of universe and its material creation, to what happened to hundreds of you, when God shone that light in your hearts, when you perceived that Jesus was light of the world.
These are things of equal status – that is astonishing! There is a new creation of light, when a person turns from darkness to light, and begins to follow the one who is the light of the world. These are lessons to focus our attention on much bigger and deeper things.
Science, cosmology and the Bible coincide beautifully. The universe shows God's glory, but it wasn't created in his image. You were. That gives us infinite value as creatures of God. There's even higher value, in the redemptive power of Christ, which enables us to be redeemed creatures of God.
Have you ever asked the question, 'why do I exist?' Sometimes it's a question that's disturbing. The biblical answer in the New Testament, in Revelation 4:11. "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
So, 'why do you exist'? The answer is, because God wanted you to be. That is nothing short of staggering. You've all sensed the phenomenon of what CS Lewis called the 'inner ring' - being excluded from the 'clique', having a feeling of 'they didn't want me'. In school, or as an adult, you can feel the same in work or church. It's a desperate feeling. But what a God is this! By God's will we existed and were created. God desires for us to exist.
I can't begin to explain what that means to me personally. With all my sins and faults and feelings - he wanted me to be. This is the gospel of creation, so to speak. To get into our hearts a sense of what scripture is telling us, is unique in all religious literature. There's no competition with any worldview or philosophy – none of the others has got this. We're made because God wanted us to be - he made us in his own image. Genesis 1:27 says men and women are equal in the eyes of God and equally valuable, and equally made in his image.
This statement is coming under massive and concerted attack. Led by Peter Singer at Princeton University. He accuses Christians of 'speciesism' – elevating the human species above all others. They argue this is no longer tenable, when we've discovered continuity with all species.
I want to argue that Singer has got it 180 degrees wrong. The world's problem is that we haven't taken this Biblical statement seriously, about what it means to be made in image of God. One of the things God did was put creation under human stewardship. Singer is an animal rights activist. He's done a great deal that's positive to deliver animals from cruel conditions. But he thinks that this mandate in Genesis gives carte blanche to destroy the planet. It does no such thing.
I often point out what the book of Revelation says in 11:18: 'The time has come to judge those who destroy the earth'. God takes it very seriously when we destroy his earth. It's not a license to exploit.
There's an enormous battle, about what the status of human life is. Is it made in the image of God?
I remember talking to a world famous expert on IVF, a gynaecologist. She said, 'what's your problem, it's just a set of cells?' I said, 'if you're a naturalist, of course it is. For me as a Christian, it's human life made in the image of God, and what right do we have we to destroy it?' Ethics are worldview dependent. That's why this battle is so importantly. You will regard human life differently if you are a materialist… or a Christian who thinks human life is made in the image of God.
Our view of human life is fundamental to our value parameters. Human beings are made in the image of God.
Some people say that this is nonsense, and that the true situation is the opposite - that God has been made in the image of man, there is no real transcendent God. This idea is often associated with Sigmund Freud. In this view, god is a 'wish fulfilment'. If there is no God, that is true. But if there is a God, then atheism is a wish fulfilment, because they do not want to meet God.
Nobel prize winner Czes?aw Mi?osz said, 'a true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death - the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged." Freud's argument can show you that it is atheism that is the escape mechanism. What Freud can't help you with at all, is whether there is a God. It's often useful to reverse these arguments, as they often make the opposite point, depending on what worldview you have.
Stephen Hawking has said that heaven is a "fairy story for people afraid of the dark." I said, if you want a statement in the same spirit, 'atheism is a fairy tale, for people afraid of the light'.
We're going to pass straight on to the next important section of Genesis.
It's commonly said that Genesis 2 is a second creation story that contradicts the first. But it's not a second creation story, and I don't believe it contradicts the first. We have got to distinguish between chronological order, and logical order from the perspective of human beings.
There are many varied opinions on this subject. I must confess to finding Jack Collins, a senior Hebrews scholar on the ESV translation, and a trained scientist, very helpful. What he has to say on Genesis 1-4 is enormously useful. [His book is Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Theological, and Literary Commentary.]
What I believe is going on, is that Genesis 2, 3, and 4 are defining life for us, and defining death for us. Not in the sense of a fully scientific description of what it is - but 'what makes life, life'. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Far from saying less than any other philosophy, the Bible says a great deal more.
The Bible admits that human beings have a material base, in saying we were made from the Earth. We were not created ex nihilo. Granted, that we are 'stuff' – but is that all we are? Materialism says yes. But the Bible says, we are so much more than just 'stuff'.
Human beings are living beings, but that's only the beginning. Take a look at Genesis 2:9, "The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food." This reminds us of our human aesthetic sense. The fact we're capable of appreciating beauty. That's why we're in Keswick [at the Convention, in the beautiful Lake District], and not a coalfield.
So it seems that God is interested in the satisfaction of our desire for beauty. There have been generations where Christianity forgot that, and got itself into trouble by denying the beauty that God built into the universe.
Have you observed a difference between the way you eat and your dog eats? Perhaps you haven't! We do share some things with animals. We might react similarly to a steak, but we react very differently to a Rembrandt.
Then take the rivers in verses 2:10-14 – why put that into the Creation story? Perhaps you're following those rivers, to see where they lead. I believe these verses hint at another very big area of life – curiosity and its satisfaction. I'm so thrilled the Lord has made me curious, asking questions about everything. It's a pity we stop kids asking questions – once we stop asking questions, we're dead.
Tomorrow will be the final blog on Genesis.