Truth consists of having the same idea about something that God has.
— Joseph Joubert —
The Imago Dei
(The Image of God)
So, if we have unwittingly adopted and promoted a pornographic view of the human body, what is the correct view?
Simple… The same view that its Designer holds.
And He tells us His view in the story relating the creation of the human body. Our answer is found in the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1.
God’s View of our Bodies
The story goes like this (I’ll summarize here, but please read the entire account for yourself… like it was the very first time):
The God Who Is… creates the universe. By His infinite wisdom and power, He simply speaks every part of creation into being… until it is time to create man.
Then, two things change:
- God stops to hold a conference among the persons of the Godhead to discuss the creation of man. It is declared in this conference that mankind should have a special status among all created beings: man was to be fashioned “in Our image and in Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).
- This time, God “forms” man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7) rather than simply speaking as He had done for all of the plants and animals already created. There was a very personal touch to this creation!
Clearly, the human body is very special… it is very special to God!
Did that surprise you? It shouldn’t. This is what God’s Word has declared all along. When we take the passage at face value, the plain meaning of the words indicate that our bodies are crafted to physically look like God.
(Let me take a moment here to acknowledge that “image-bearing” encompasses much more than our physical shape, but since the topic of this article is on God’s view of our bodies, I am focusing on that aspect alone here.)
The Words God Uses
Now, perhaps you are thinking, “But God is ‘Spirit’ (John 4:24)! How can a body be made to look like a spirit? Spirits have no form!”
You would not be alone in making that assertion. But before I address the objection, let me point out some things about the passage itself, and the words used in the original language.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…’” (Gen 1:26a – NIV)
Of course, this was originally written in Hebrew, so the true meaning of the passage is to be found in the meaning of the Hebrew terms. They are as follows:
Both words are used many times in the Hebrew Scriptures. An examination of their usage in the Old Testament will demonstrate that “likeness” is a general similarity; on the other hand, “image” is always a visual representation (I would encourage you to do a word study to affirm that).
It is not sound biblical interpretation to presume that a word which has a consistent meaning throughout Scripture has a divergent meaning in one passage only. Therefore, the best approach is to assume the consistent meaning for this word. This means that our starting point is to understand that God made the human body to be a visual representation of His form. Linguistically, we have no basis to question that meaning.
Wait, don’t forget John 4:24! God is SPIRIT!!!
I haven’t forgotten. I have two points to make in this matter.
1. God’s self-revelation is progressive. In other words, He revealed something of Himself in Gen. 1, a lot more throughout the rest of the Old Testament, then a lot more in the person of Jesus Christ, then finally, through the teachings of Jesus, we are told that “God is Spirit.” Again, correct biblical interpretation demands that we hold the revelation which came first, then allow that understanding to be enhanced and expanded by what comes thereafter. It cannot completely overturn or redefine the first revelation.
2. The objection assumes something about spirits which we do not know: that spirits are limitless, shapeless beings. To start with, we know so very little about the Spirit realm at all! How can we declare the true nature of a spirit? Furthermore, what we do know from Scripture about spirits does not give any support to that notion… quite the opposite, in fact. Consider the following:
a. Angels are spirits (Heb. 1:14) yet they are geographically limited (Dan. 10:4-13); they are not at all places at the same time and they can be detained in one location (the angel Michael took 21 days to get to Daniel). To have geographical limits, they must have spatial dimension. That means they must have some sort of form (even if it is shifting and indistinct).
b. When God rebukes Aaron and Miriam for grumbling against Moses, God Himself uses these words to describe His personal meetings with Moses, “he [Moses] beholds the form of the LORD [YHWH]” (Num. 12:8). That word “form” (temuwnah – H8544) clearly indicates a shape of some kind that was visible to Moses. We are not told what shape it was, but we are told that Moses saw it. And the shape he saw belonged to God!
Other Scripture passages could be quoted that also show God and/or angelic spirits in visible forms. In fact, they are so bountiful in Scripture that we have given them some big theological names: Theophanies and Anthropomorphisms. These words are used to describe times when God reveals Himself in human form (theophanies) or speaks of His nature using human terms (that other big word). I would suggest, however, that these words themselves unnecessarily presume that God has no form that can be seen, or that He exists in any form similar to a man’s.
Is it really unreasonable to consider that God may not have been “taking on” human form, but actually revealing His own true form? What form would that be? We don’t have to wonder. It is the form after which mankind was fashioned! He would “look like” mankind because in reality, mankind looks like Him!
From our perspective, when the unseen God allowed Himself to be seen, it would appear that He was taking on human form, when in fact that was not the case. If you think about it, there would be nothing taken away from the meaning of the Word of God if we understood God’s words about Himself and His revelation of Himself as literal. The Bible doesn’t tell us that the LORD appeared as a man, it simply tells us that the LORD appeared.
Here’s my point: There’s no compelling reason in the Bible to conclude that there cannot be a physical element to our image-bearing. Therefore, there is no reason to reject the plain sense of the word “image” (tsalem) used by God to communicate to us the nature of our being.
I know that some will not be convinced by this very brief presentation of this understanding and its biblical foundation, but for the sake of keeping this article readable, let me go on and talk about what this truth can and should mean to you and to me.
The impact of this Truth
Allow me to list a few things and then make a few comments about each point.
1.Your body is an intrinsic part of who you are as a human being.
Some people will tell you that the “real” you is not your body, but what’s inside. No doubt that your inner character is vastly more important than external perceptions of beauty, but that does not mean that your body is not “you,” too. In fact, your body is so much a part of who you are that God has determined that you will have a real body for all eternity! (study the Bible’s teaching on the ultimate and physical resurrection of all mankind.)
Your body is so important to God that He will even redeem your body from the results of the Fall and give you a new, “glorified” body. Having a body is part of being human. Even Jesus (fully God and fully human) still has His physical body.
2.Your body’s beauty is the personal handiwork of God.
Literally, it’s a kind of divine “self-portrait.” As such, it is worthy of great honor and dignity!
Your body’s beauty is not found in how sexually “attractive” it might be according to the world’s perverted notions; it is found in the fact that your body reflects God’s own likeness.
Furthermore, regardless of your body shape, it still bears God’s original design. It is not only the young, the thin, or the strong who reflect the Divine image, but every last one of us, regardless of age, weight, or gender. The honor and dignity of God’s likeness rests on our bodies now and for all eternity.
To God, every body is beautiful… wrinkles, rolls, warts, and all. We would do well to adopt God’s perspective in this matter. And until we do, we will dishonor God’s image on those we call “ugly.”
3. In God’s eyes, there is no shame to be found in our bodies as God created them.
There is no greater honor than to be the bearers of God’s image. It is not something to be ashamed of. And God did not intend for it to be always hidden from view (Gen. 2:25).
In Gen. 3, when Adam and Eve sinned, it was they who presumed to attach shame to their bodies, not God. In fact, God’s question in Gen. 3:11 clearly indicates that their shame over their bodies was a result of their sin. Shame was never God’s idea.
There are indeed very shameful ways to act with our bodies, but this type of shame is not in the body itself, but in the mistreatment of the body and/or the relegation of our bodies’ significance to the realm of sexual indulgence and perversion. We must always treat the honor of our image-bearing with the respect and dignity that it deserves.
4. God is not a pornographer!
The way some of us think about and treat the human form, you would have to conclude that God cruelly made our bodies to be stumbling blocks to us all. One glimpse of a person in their natural state and we will simply be unable to respond righteously.
God’s creation is not a source of temptation.
(Nothing outside a man going into him defiles him! – Mark 7:15). It is our presumption that we will always respond lustfully that is the problem. It is within us. How dare we treat what God created in His own image as an object for our own selfish indulgence?
Did God make breasts to be a sexual enticement to men? If so, then how cruel He must be to then demand that I turn my eyes away from the “danger” every time I see a woman! Last time I checked, every woman out there wears them right there on her chest. God sure didn’t make it easy on us, did He?
That, of course, is rubbish. Women were made to be beautiful by God’s personal design. It’s a good design, too… Not meant to be a source of stumbling for me. If I treat it so, the problem is with me, not with simply seeing God’s design.
Can you see how vastly different this understanding is from our world’s false thinking? Can you begin to see how thinking of your body (and others’ bodies) in this way could radically change your responses to body-related issues? I hope so.
This understanding of our being crafted in the Image of God is the first step in recognizing the falsehoods in our society’s view and treatment of the body.
Read on… We’ll get even more specific.
— Pastor Ed
Next up: The Lies We Have Believed