Sunday, October 30, 2022

Restoring the Image of God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

“In Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

Keep those two accounts in your mind: Psalm 22, the suffering of Christ, and this second passage in Luke, the suffering of another man in hell. We want to think about the relationship between those two.

The Sickness of Our Age

One of the symptoms of the sickness of our age is that so many people cannot find meaning to life. Life seems to make no sense to them. They don’t know the reason why they’re here.

If we believe the theory of evolution, life has no meaning or purpose. After all, there’s no intelligence behind what exists. It just happened this way. Secondly, if we believe the theory of evolution, then there’s no sense in maintaining any moral standards. Why should we be moral people? Why should we be concerned with what is supposedly right and what is supposedly wrong? We’re only just evolving these ideas as we go along. Why not scrap them? Where is the norm? Where is the standard? Nobody can tell us authoritatively that this is right or that is wrong. You may as well go out and eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

Thirdly, if evolution is true, there is no one to whom we must give account, no one to whom we have to answer at the end of life. So life becomes a meaningless coming out of nowhere and going to nowhere.

Made in God’s Image

Fortunately, the Christian is not left to the theory of evolution. The word of God tells us where we came from. The Bible tells us why we’re here, and the Bible assures us there is One to whom we must each give an account. Life, then, has meaning. The Bible tells me that God made man in his own image.

Now, that doesn’t mean that as you look in the mirror at yourself in the morning, you can say, “I look like God.” God is spirit. He doesn’t have a body. He’s not limited to one place like you are.

So if God made man in his image, what exactly does that mean? No other created thing is said to be made in the image of God. Angels are greater than we are, but they are not made in the image of God. Animals have much that is in common with us — a body, flesh, blood, like we have — but the Bible does not say that animals are in the image of God. Neither angels nor animals: only man is made in the image of God. This shows just how important humankind is. Mankind is very important in the plan of God.

Does that give us meaning? It certainly does. We begin to understand something about God’s purpose when we realize that we are made in his image. There is some sense in which people can come in contact with us and learn something about God that they couldn’t learn anywhere else. The Bible teaches that the prime purpose of man being made in God’s image is that he might bring glory to God; that is, that God might be honored. When people look at man, they see in him something that reflects God’s glory: God’s character, the way God thinks, the way God acts. People are to learn what God is like as they look at other men and women.

Whose Image Is This?

The Bible does not say that all men are sons of God, but it does say that he’s not far from every one of us, including even the most pagan person. God is not very far from every one of us, and “we also,” says the Bible, “are his offspring.” Even an unconverted man is made in the image of God. He may not do it actually, but he has the potential to reflect on the glory of his Creator.

Now, isn’t it a strange thing that man — who is in made in the image of God, and made to reflect his character so that an admiring creation can see what God is like — is not actually bringing glory to God at all? Most men spend their lives in the pursuit of happiness. And yet the Bible teaches us, because we are made in the image of God, that fulfillment and happiness are only found when we are in fellowship, when we are near to God. Happiness can only be found in holiness, and contentment is only found in being conformed to the image of his Son.

Men came to Jesus in order to trip him up, asking if they should pay tribute or not. Do you remember on that occasion he said, “Show me a penny”? As they handed it to him, he said, “Whose image and superscription is this?” Then he went on to answer their question, telling them that they should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Let me look at you as if you were that penny, and say as I look at you, “Whose image is this?” Whose image do you bear? On whose glory do you reflect? God made us to be for his glory.

Now, supposing we look at that penny again, and instead of it being a clear reflection of Caesar, we find that the penny is scraped and bent, and there is no clear way of recognizing who had that coin minted because the image is defaced and spoiled and marred. That is how you and I are when we are born into this world. The image is defaced. It’s somewhat there, and yet not clear. And the reason for that is that there is sin in my life and yours. It’s sin that hinders us reflecting the glory of God. Internationally, domestically, in business life, I see that image is defaced, for we are not bringing glory to God the way we should. That can be said even of people who go to church.

Restoring a Marred Image

How can that image be restored? Well, I believe the answer is in considering the greatest suffering that ever took place. There are three kinds of suffering in Psalm 22. First of all, there is physical pain. The psalmist describes the agony of being stretched out on the cross: “All my bones are out of joint. My tongue cleaves to my mouth.” Then there’s mental anguish in this psalm: “My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.” It’s because we are made in the image of God that we can experience such things. We can enter into that; not merely physical pain, which an animal can experience, but a tremendous depth of emotion. Then notice there’s such a thing as spiritual pain: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

On the cross, I see that same physical pain that you can experience, that same mental anguish that you can know, that depth of spiritual suffering that you can enter into. I see it there in the cross, but it is amplified there. It appears there much greater than in your experience or in mine, for the suffering of that cross was greater than you or I can ever know.

The Greatest Suffering

Did you know that because you are made in the image of God you are capable of the greatest spiritual suffering? In Luke 16, we have Lazarus and the rich man. Do you remember what it says there? After they had both died, their destinations were quite different. One was in a place of comfort, described by the Lord Jesus as in fellowship with Abraham, the father of the faithful. The other, it says, was in Hades and in torment.

How great a torment is described in physical terms. That’s strange, isn’t it. But in order for us to understand what the torment of hell is like, it’s described physically. He says, “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” He wants relief, but notice that he cannot have it. “There is a great chasm fixed.” That’s what spiritual suffering is, and that’s what men and women choose.

You say, “Surely no one would choose that!” Well, God has one way to heaven, and that is through the Lord Jesus. The cross is the only way to God, and that means the person who hung upon the cross. That’s why Paul said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This man in Luke 16 is experiencing spiritual suffering because he never came home by the way of the cross. He rejected — or perhaps more accurately, he neglected — his own salvation, and the Bible asks, “How shall we escape?”, if we neglect God’s salvation for us.

Non-fellowship with God is the greatest suffering. It’s greater than physical suffering. It’s greater than mental suffering. Men will know both of those, so to speak, in hell. But it’s spiritual suffering that is the greatest: the thought of being forever separated from the true source of all happiness and joy. That’s God. You and I were created in order to be in fellowship, in nearness, to God. Hell is being cut off from him forever.

My God, My God

Why did the Lord Jesus suffer on the cross? Well, hear his words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Three times in that psalm we read, “Be not far from me, be not far from me, be not far from me.” He experienced the spiritual agony of being separated from God.

That doesn’t mean too much to us, does it. It doesn’t really come home to us. Do you know why? I knew an elder one time who had a saying, and it was this: “Those who’ve never known nearness don’t understand distance.” Think about that. It’s because you and I have so little experience of the exquisite bliss of being in fellowship with God that we don’t understand the horror of being separated from God.

We know so little of nearness, don’t we. That’s why it needs to be emphasized that real suffering is being separated from God for eternity. The Lord Jesus came to save us from that; and, in order to save us, he had to experience himself what it was to be separated from God. Because there on the cross God laid my sin upon him. That’s an invisible transaction, something that you and I could not see. We could see the visible suffering if we were there. We could understand the mental anguish. But we can’t understand the spiritual suffering:

“None of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
Ere he found the sheep that was lost.”

The Image Restored

God had to find a sufferer who was perfect. He couldn’t find him on earth, so he emptied heaven. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Christ is the very image of God. He gave him that whoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life. You and I need not die because he has suffered.

And, listen, there’s real assurance in looking at that cross: “God will not payment twice demand, once at my bleeding Surety’s hand and then again at mine.” It wouldn’t be just to do that. If the debt has been paid, then those for whom it was paid go free.

It’s through that means, and through that means only, that the image of God is restored.

— Colin Anderson, excerpted from
“The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Image of God”, circa 1982

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