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The Image of God and Restoration

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Alienated
The fall into sin had devastating effects on Adam and Eve, both as a direct consequence of their disobedience and in the judgment by God which followed. We see in Genesis 3 how sin produced alienation from God (Adam and Eve hid from Him), from ourselves (feelings of shame), from our neighbor (Adam blames Eve, and the relationship between husband and wife is terribly distorted), and ultimately from the natural world (the ground is cursed to produce thorns and thistles rather than yielding its bounty to Adam’s labor).

Given the incredible range of effects of sin, God’s recovery plan had to be able to deal comprehensively with all of these problems. Redemption in Christ is thus much bigger than simply dealing with the guilt of our sin and restoring our relationship with God. It also provides the means for dealing with the consequences of the Fall in this life.

A firm foundation
Psychologically, many (though by no means all) of our problems stem from guilt—on this, Freud had a valid point. Where Freud went wrong is in failing to recognize that guilt isn’t just a matter of feelings; rather, true moral guilt also exists and is the source of many of our guilty feelings. Pop psychology has followed Freud in denying the reality of guilt and trying to free people from feeling guilty without ever recognizing the underlying problem. But because it has no means of dealing with true guilt, this approach can never truly solve our psychological problems.

The Good News is that in Christ, our guilt is taken away through the Cross. As a result, we don’t need to hide from guilt or deny it—in fact, we must acknowledge and confess it, agreeing with God about His evaluation of our behavior but also trusting in Christ to bear our guilt and shame. This gives us a firm foundation for dealing with our true guilt as well as our guilty feelings and shame at our behavior—God knows all about it, and He has accepted and forgiven us anyway. While we need to mourn our sin and repent of it, we do not need to allow it to paralyze us anymore.

Restored relationships
Christianity also did much to restore relationships between people who were often hostile to each other. Early Christians insisted that all people were spiritually and morally equal before God. This led to a very different ethic among early Christians in keeping with Jesus’ commands to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44), and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), as well as Paul’s teaching about humility (Phil. 2:1-4) and about Christ demolishing the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14).

The historical consequences of this new view of our equality before God in Christ led Christians to lead in the battle to eliminate slavery, starting with Christians in the Roman Empire purchasing slaves for the sole reason of freeing them. The same attitude led Christians to oppose abortion and infanticide, and led the monk Telemachus to try to halt a gladiatorial match at the cost of his own life.

Equality and rights
Modern ideas of civil equality and human rights also have their roots in Christian thought.
In particular, the Christian emphasis on spiritual and moral equality led to a new view of women and a restoration of marriage as a partnership between equals. As we have seen, the Woman was originally made as an equal of the Man, though it seems that the Man was to be the leader in the relationship (as indicated by his naming the Woman in Gen. 2:23). This proper relationship was distorted by the Fall, with the subjugation of women following as the result of sin. This type of subjugation was a central element of Greco-Roman culture, as was pervasive misogyny.

In contrast, Paul taught that we are all to be subject to each other for the love of Christ: wives are subject to husbands, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved us, looking for our interests rather than His own, and laying down His life for us (Eph. 5:21-33). The role of the husband is thus transformed into a servant/leader who has no right to insist on his way but who must self-sacrificially serve his wife.1

This new attitude also gave women new rights and status within Christian communities, as documented by Rodney Stark.2

The harmony of creation
The coming of Christ also begins the process of restoring the harmony of the natural world, as prophesied in the Peaceful Kingdom passage (Is. 11:6-9) and in the promises of the desert blooming and flowing with water (e.g. Is. 35:1-2, 6-7). While the full restoration of Creation to its proper functioning awaits the Second Coming, in the meantime Christians have historically called for responsible stewardship of resources on the one hand, and have worked to mitigate the effects of the Fall on our labor on the other.

Work and technology
As we have seen, God intended work to be good, but sin turned it into drudgery. Not surprisingly, then, in the ancient world across the globe, work was seen as something fit only for slaves and inferiors. In Christianity, work was restored to an honored place. Paul himself worked (Acts 18:3) and encouraged others to do so (1 Thes. 4:11; 2 Thes. 3:10). For this reason, early monks were commanded to engage in work, both as an exercise in humility and out of obedience to the Biblical commands.

But if work is good, drudgery is evil. People should work, but should do so in a way that engages the whole person as much as possible. People shouldn’t do the kind of repetitive, mindless work that animals or machines can do just as well—it undermines the intrinsic dignity of work. As a result, the monasteries of the middle ages began an early industrial revolution, harnessing water power to grind grain. The technology was then adapted to full cloth, operate the bellows in foundries and trip hammers in forges, and make paper, among other things. Wind power was similarly harnessed for many of the same tasks as well as for pumping water out of the polders in the Netherlands, land reclaimed from the sea for farming.

A host of other technologies also developed in the Christian middle ages, ranging from eye glasses to blast furnaces, horseshoes to spinning wheels, and the effort to produce technologies to improve work and the life of the working classes has continued in the West ever since.

Other cultures had fabulous technologies long before the West began to develop. The difference is that those technologies were never used to develop labor-saving devices or to benefit the working class. The Romans, for example, knew about water wheels but never deployed them because they had slaves to do the work. The difference was worldview: Christians recognized the dignity of work and the equal dignity of each person. This and this alone provided the motivation for harnessing technology to benefit the workers, not just the elites, and in the process laid the economic foundation for the rise of the West.

The scientific revolution
On another front, Christians developed the scientific method and were at the heart of the scientific revolution because they recognized the divine mandate to study the world, and knew that the world was made by a rational God and thus must therefore be rational. Learning about the world meant studying it as it is, because only through that would the mind of God be revealed.

The examples of the impact of Christianity can be multiplied. Although it might not seem that way at first, all of them without exception depend entirely on the work of Christ for their effectiveness. Without the reconciling work of Christ on the Cross, we have no basis for psychological healing, overcoming the differences of race, ethnicity, class, or gender, no power to carry out the mandate God gave us in Adam, and no means of overcoming the curse that our sin laid upon us. But in Christ, all is possible. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground!
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”

And as Christians, our part is to continue Christ’s work in reversing the curse, working to reconcile our neighbors with God and to bring the blessings of His rule into all areas of life.

Why You Think The Way You Do

 

For a good overview of Glenn’s argument in this series, get his book, Why You Think the Way You Do, from our online store.

Or read the article, “Not a Threat: The Contributions of Christianity to Western Society,” by Rick Wade.

 

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