One of the most radical verses in the bible, one that changed the course of history but now forgotten is Genesis 1:27 which says: “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In January my daughter-in-law lost the baby in her womb. It was 21 weeks old. He was given the name Matthias Peter Begbie. It may seem a strange question for us, but in our strange new world it is a significant to ask, was this embryo human?
I have a friend whose wife is dying of dementia. I am a widower. My sister has never married. We are both on our own. Are we more or less human because of this. Do we turn ’human’ as Peter Singer the philosopher suggests, when we become useful. What does this mean for the embryo, the disabled, the elderly? If I understand Peter Singer correctly, he is at least consistent in permitting the non-useful to be ’removed’. In his world a live seeing eye dog is worth more than the foetus in the womb or the aged in a nursing home. Ironically, in espousing this kind of view Singer is taking us back, at least in part, to the Roman era of Jesus’ day.
Genesis 1:27 makes it clear that little Matthias Peter Begbie bore the image of God, as does my dementia stricken friend. I am no more or no less human when I am young, or old, whether I am straight of gay, white or black, slave or free, single and celebrate or sexually fulfilled. In the end Genesis 1:27 points to the Gospel, the Gospel which calls us back to the one who is truly human, the true image or icon of God as Paul puts it in Phil 2:4-9, the one who though by nature unbroken comes into our broken world, to be broken for us providing for us a way to be redeemed, restored into the image that God has given to us. The truth is that all of us, by nature fall short of that image, but through the Gospel we can, beginning in this life through the work of the Spirit and the teaching of God’s Word and ending (or should I say beginning) with the new creation, be empowered to grow more like Jesus, more whole, closer to whom we are in Christ, people bearing perfectly the image of God.
In our so-called modern world we choose our own identity. There is no longer a basis of truth around which civil discourse can be held. This may seem to be tolerant of diversity but is inherently unstable tending to lead to tribal patterns of behaviour and abusive or manipulative discourse. It is in the Gospel that our true identity is found. It is there that we find a new identify, a new creation, a new name; it is there and only there that true unity and mercy can be found. That is the meaning of Galatians 3:28 where it reminds us that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female..” and we might add young or old, clear in head or dementia stricken, celibate or in a relationship. In Christ our identity comes from him. That is all we finally need.
My grandson, the one who never saw the light of day was farewelled as a child of God made in his image, and in his death reminds us that we must never forget the radical, powerful, life changing truth that alone can bring hope to our tribal and polarised world, that we are made in God’s image and redeemed by the one who was by right unbroken but who became broken that we might one day stand before the throne of God bearing fully the image that God has given us.