Image of God

1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God
 has God made mankind. 7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”  (Genesis 9:1-7)
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.   (Isaiah 5:8)
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)
When Noah and his sons finally left their lockdown in the Ark, the Lord took them back to the Garden of Eden. He reminded them that, like Adam, they had been created in the image of God. They were to reflect the Lord’s glory by partnering with him in ruling planet Earth. They were to go forth, increase and multiply to fill the vast continents of the world with worshippers of God, who would reflect God’s glory through the way they lived their lives.

These opening verses of Genesis 9 drop plenty of hints, however, that the Lord knows full well that humanity will reject this calling. They will turn to war instead of worship, and to power games instead of praise. Even as the Lord grants them permission to eat meat – not just fruit and vegetables – he feels the need to warn people not to butcher one another. He reminds them of what we learned in Genesis 1:26-28 – that each human being has been created in the image of God and therefore matters deeply to God. In this week’s Everyday Devotions, we are going to be looking at what the Bible says about race and racism, so let’s just pause for a moment and think about how the different nations have treated one another over the centuries. If you live in Britain, then did you know that people used to use these very verses to justify the British Empire’s expansion into Africa and elsewhere in the world? When they ran out of manpower to work their plantations in the Caribbean, they also used this chapter of the Bible to justify the enslavement and mass deportation of many Africans. Never mind that Isaiah 5 calls down a curse on those who endlessly increase their lands at the expense of others. Never mind that 1 Timothy 1 explicitly condemns the slave trade. There is something in the heart of humanity that refuses to see the image of God in others.

It was Christians who finally challenged this and brought the slave trade to an end. Josiah Wedgwood led a famous campaign which preached from Genesis 9:6 – Slaves are also our brothers and sisters! A century and a half later, it was the Christian pastor Martin Luther King who called the United States to go much further than merely freeing people. He preached from Genesis 9:6 to call his nation to recognise the image of God in everyone. The US Civil Rights Movement found its moral strength in the words that the Lord spoke to Noah and his sons when they stepped out from their lockdown in the Ark. Martin Luther King preached, “Every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man, from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”
1)   How do you think that it was possible during the British Empire for British Christians to read these verses and not see that many of their actions were sinful?

2)   Looking at the Apostle Paul’s list of sins in 1 Timothy 1:8-11, do you think that there are any other similar “blind spots” where we miss sin in our own culture today?

3)   How does it affect our behaviour towards others when we grasp that they are made in the image of God? How must this insight transform the way that you treat those around you today?
Father God, I’m so sorry for my own selective reading of Scripture. I find it all too easy to block out the things that I don’t want to hear you say. Please speak to us this week, as we study what your Word teaches us about race and racism. Help me to see the image of God in everyone around me, and may it transform the way I treat them. Amen.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.
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