I viewed my fellow man not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape. —Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape
So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself… —Genesis 1:27
Two competing worldviews. Humanity is the highest and best result (so far) of a chance evolutionary process that has been ongoing for millions of years. Or, humanity is the crowning work of art of a creative God, who colored us with qualities that are like his own. Which is it, and does it really matter which view we embrace?
Yes, it matters.
If we are merely highly-evolved beasts, law and civil society are artificial contrivances, as easily discarded as the naturists cast off their clothing in order to feel more… “natural.” If we are just a chance improvisation of natural selection, no moral or legal code can be any more binding on human conduct than “the survival of the strongest.”
The consequences of our embracing the Naked Ape worldview are splattered across our newspapers daily. What else explains the senseless brutality, such as the murder of beautiful, pregnant Laci Peterson, a woman in one of the most vulnerable and precious conditions of the human experience? How else can we understand the cruelty of the Hitlers and Stalins and Pol Pots and Saddams of the world? If men and women are nothing more than genetically-altered savages, can there be any surprise that the powerful terrorize the weak?
The alternative, that humans were created by God in his image, is as different from the Naked Ape position as night from day. To be created in God’s image does not mean that we look like God, but that we share essential qualities of God’s nature. We are relational. We are moral. We are at our best when we relate to each other in love, guided by the golden rule: Do for others what you would like them to do for you. —Matthew 7:12, NLT.
To be created in the image of God means that God wanted us to exist, that God labored to bring us into being, that God cares for us. And it means that we are capable of behaving towards each another in love; we are not slaves to the savagery of our cutthroat rise up the evolutionary ladder. We have in us the capacity for goodness and decency, inherited from our Creator.
The Apostle Paul expressed it this way:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. —Ephesians 2:10, NIV
That word workmanship is difficult to translate from the original Greek. It means an object crafted with planning and devotion and artistic skill, carefully, purposefully. It contains the sense of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David, or a painting like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It is as foolish to believe that such masterpieces bubbled up from the La Brea tar pits as to believe that humans evolved from pond scum.
To be created in the image of God means that we have a high calling, a purpose, a duty to live morally, a commitment to justice and love. To be a Naked Ape is to join in a bloody and amoral competition to insure the survival of our genes.
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