Imagine King David stepping out onto the roof of his house on a cool, clear evening and staring up into the night sky (having learned his lesson not to stare down at others). As he ponders the magnitude of God’s creation, the thought enters his mind, “… what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:4-5 (ESV). David is immediately struck by two truths that seem to be in tension with one another:
- The insignificance of humanity in relation to God.
- The significance bestowed on humanity by God.
Like many doctrines in tension (e.g. God’s sovereignty & man’s free will, God’s love & God’s wrath, etc.), it is easy to sympathize with one above the other. We are tempted to believe we need to diminish one to uphold the other. However, in order to have a proper understanding of who we are, we must affirm both our insignificance and our significance, our unworthiness and our worth, our depravity and our dignity.
What is Man that You Are Mindful of Him?
Two characteristics of humanity cause David to ponder our insignificance. First, we are created. As David considered the ease with which God created the entire universe, he began to wonder why such a powerful God would ever take notice of man. After all, the moon and the stars are the work of God’s fingers. Why would God stoop so low as to care about an individual, even someone as powerful as King David?
Not only are we created beings, but we are rebels against our Creator. Genesis 3 records what is commonly referred to as the Fall. Adam and Eve were given one prohibition not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Naturally, a prohibition seemed intriguing and with a little help from the Tempter, they disobeyed God. Since that tragic moment rebellion has been characteristic of humanity. In light of our rebellion against this all-powerful God, we stand before God as unworthy beings. Certainly, as unworthy beings God views us as worthless, right? Not so fast.
Crowned With Glory and Honor
It is clear from the opening pages of Scripture that man is the crowning glory of God’s creation. The fast-paced creation narrative slows down when it describes the origin of Adam and Eve. God rewinds in Genesis 2 for a closer look at man’s creation. Despite the immensity of the universe, it is man who has been “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). There is something significant about mankind that sets us apart from the rest of creation. The distinctive feature of humanity is that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Herman Bavinck says it this way, “…among all creatures only man is the image of God, the highest and richest revelation of God and therefore head and crown of the entire creation.”
We are crowned with glory and honor because we are made in the likeness of the King of Glory. It is this high position and calling of being an image bearer that makes humanity dignified above the rest of creation. R. C. Sproul sums it up well, “Man’s dignity rests in God who assigns an inestimable worth to every person. Man’s origin is not an accident, but a profoundly intelligent act by One who has eternal value; by One who stamps His own image on each person.” As those made in the image of the infinitely worthy God, we possess worth and dignity that far surpasses the rest of creation.
Our significance, our worth, and our dignity are grounded in the truth that we are created in the image of God. This is important because many Christians have overreacted to the self-esteem/self-worth movement by insisting that we are worthless. It can sound righteous to say, “we are trash, we are worthless, we are nothing.” However, in affirming both the unworthiness and worth of man, David simultaneously rejects a therapeutic—improve your life by improving your self-worth— view of man and an overly spiritualized—man is totally worthless—view of man.
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
If our dignity comes from being made in the image of God, we must have a firm grasp of what it means to be an image bearer. There are two primary features of the image of God. First, God created us like himself in many ways. We are not God; we are not little gods; we will never be gods; we are, however, made “in his likeness” (James 3:9). As those who are made in the likeness of God, we can think, feel, speak, desire, choose, create, and relate on a level that is unknown to the rest of creation. This is possible because we are made in the image of God who thinks, speaks, desires, chooses, creates, and relates.
God not only endows every person with immense worth by stamping them with his image, but he also commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. This is the second aspect of being made in God’s image. We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him. One of the most important ways we were supposed to do this was by reflecting God’s character. We were designed to be holy because God is holy, just because God is just, Kind because God is kind, etc.
Unfortunately, we continually fail to reflect his image. Though we remain image bearers in our essence, we imperfectly mirror him as a result of our sin. The irony of sin is that we use the very abilities we have as image bearers and use them for our sinful gratification. For instance, We abuse our ability to communicate by engaging in slander and gossip. We abuse our ability to reason by rationalizing our sin away. We abuse our ingenuity to find new ways to rebel against him.
Our Ultimate Hope
Needless to say, the answer is not found within ourselves. We needed another to come to our rescue. Surprisingly, the rescuer came in the form of an image bearer. God became a man. He became the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the perfect picture of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). Our ultimate hope rests in Jesus, the perfect image of God, who himself became a little lower than the angels. Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (ESV). He tasted death for us by bearing the wrath of God on the cross that we deserved. He rose from the grave offering forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who would turn away from their sin and rely on his finished work.
In God’s wisdom and grace he begins to transform his followers into the image of Christ. We progressively begin to look more and more like the perfect image-bearer. What was broken at the fall begins to be restored until one day the recreating work of God will be complete as we become fully like Christ when we are with him in eternity (1 John 3:2). We will perfectly image God forever.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 8:4-5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
RC Sproul. In Search of Dignity (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1983), 94.
Herman Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004) 531.