Reflections on the Imago Dei and Procreation

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Being omnipotent, our Creator had options. He could have done it otherwise. That Jehovah God passed over so many potentialities for this world, and that He called this world—the one that He had in fact made—“very good” infuses our world with significance, joy, and awful wonder. Because God had such meticulous intentions for our world, we who fear Him can profit from reflecting on His ways in creation.
One particularly significant aspect of creation is man’s being made in the image of God. Ask any well-trained Sunday school class what that means, and you will get a pretty standard textbook answer: man has intellect, emotions, will, and a sense of morality. Francis Schaeffer said that being in the image of God means being as like to God as a creature can be. Studying a little further, we find that man is like God not just in nature, but also in function: he relates, he creates (though not ex nihilo), he procreates. Human life (by “life” I mean alive-ness) in its strength, its sexuality, its virility, also reflects something about God. At the beginning of our Bibles, in two or three short verses, are ideas so big that sometimes they blend into the background of our experience. But God—through Moses’ elongated description of the sixth day—placed these ideas front and center in our Bibles. Maleness. Femaleness. Procreation. We are either male or female, and were born through procreation. And the very first command given to the Image Bearers was to have babies. Why, God? Why this way?

Even within creation we see other ways God could have designed us but did not. Why not make us like single-cell organisms that reproduce asexually? Why not have us establish households by going bloop and splitting off our progeny by ourselves? Why not make us like plants that pollinate themselves or cross pollinate at the honeybees’ whim? Speaking of honeybees, why not make us one big hive, with a queen who is especially charged with laying the eggs, a few males to, er, assist, while everyone else goes about her business? Why not make us like those animals that mate by instinct when the hormones kick in, and who (as far as I understand) do not mate face to face? Or…why not make us like the angels, calling the host of humanity into existence all at once? With angels there is no marriage or giving in marriage. They don’t procreate at all. God brought just two into Eden, but He just as easily could have brought two trillion.

But God did start with two—or one, rather. He started with one Adam, and from Adam’s own rib made a complementary partner, Eve, the first sight of whom evidently pleased Adam immensely. And He did ordain that there should be man and woman, and that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife to become one flesh with her, and that by their fruitful physical union, the race should go on. And it has gone on: the very “chapter headings” of the book of Genesis are the repeated phrase, “These are the generations….” Incidentally, this phrase occurs again to introduce David’s genealogy in Ruth, and our Lord’s genealogy in Matthew. And God did wait thousands of years for the population to climb toward six billion. He made of one blood many nations and separated them with topography and language (although this separation is partly a post–Fall consideration). It seems that this, too, is a part of the imago Dei. What might God be doing with all this? I would submit three observations for reflection.

First, humanity participates in the work of God. Just as human creativity and ingenuity is part of the dominion mandate, so is procreativity. Before I was a student of theology, I would have sketchily understood and assented to this. When I became a student of theology, I started to see how big an idea it is. But nothing has brought home to me its eternal weightiness like the two pink lines on the pregnancy test last October. My first child, my daughter, is due to be born June 7. It may be God’s sovereign pleasure not to let my daughter ever see the light of day; even so, no matter what, my wife and I now have a hand in bringing into existence an eternal soul. When God sweeps the galaxies aside in the restitution of all things, our daughter will continue…somewhere. She is alive, and when she is born, she will eat, and unlike a machine processing chemicals for products, her body will grow. And although the curse will catch up with her and wear her body back into dust, who she is and what she does with herself go with her.

By participating in the work of God, it will be my wife’s and my responsibility to raise our daughter in God’s world. To steal a phrase from Lewis’s Perelandra, we will “make her older.” We will introduce her to new sights, new sounds, tastes, textures, scents. We will teach her English. We will teach her basic concepts like “more than,” “similar to,” and “because of.” Her multiplication tables. Hygiene and etiquette. And we will teach her weightier concepts like authority, justice, mercy, and love. The task is so large, it will require every waking moment, so that even waking up, and travel, and bedtime become opportunities to teach her biblical normalcy. By “biblical normalcy” I mean this: a self-conscious yet instinctive thought process that always accounts for God. And some of these ideas are better explained with accompanying demonstrations, e.g., the godly dispensation of justice and mercy. (O, God, be ever present to help me! I, too, must be made older [Psalm 101:1–2].)

By taking her hand to make her older, we will ourselves condescend to be younger. I could not enumerate the ways my parents did this for my sister and me. How many hours answering my endless questions? How many tennis balls pitched to me? How much ado over my sister’s choral productions for dolls and stuffed animals? My dad tells me he still has a copy of a story I wrote during elementary school, the best imitation of Franklin W. Dixon that I could achieve (read: atrocious). My sister’s successes in potty training got standing ovations and an endless supply of cantaloupe for reward. Lest you think that I’m lapsing into sentimentality, let me quickly draw you back to the big point: this is the way God made it to be! My parents made us older. As God works in and through people, so parents, in a lesser way, work in and through their children, mostly by setting the trajectory of their lives, by equipping them in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. My sister who needed potty training has now worked with geriatric patients for whom the effects of the curse have robbed them of their continence. She is older now.

About June 7, we begin again.

Second, men are to relate toward women as God relates to His people. I don’t know when it dawned on me—men like John Piper and Douglas Wilson have said it well, and I’m sure many others too if only I had had “old enough” ears to hear them at the time—that the apostle Paul wasn’t just making up a really convenient analogy between Christ as Head of the church and man as head of the wife. The apostle Paul was observing a correspondence that God had scripted into history before time began. God’s love is covenantal, faithful, trustworthy; God takes authoritative initiative; He glories in His people and delights in giving; He has supreme strength, and therefore He can be supremely gentle. (Thank you, Dr. Berg, for your lectures on biblical manhood and womanhood: you, too, made me older.) All that God is, so should man be. God’s people submit, follow, participate, appreciate the mutual fidelity and affection. As God’s people should be, so women should be.

Third, the structure of humanity is integral to the structure of redemption. Here I cannot skip from creation to redemption without considering the Fall. As a matter of fact, because imago Dei is a pre–Fall idea, it is somewhat difficult to study it in a post–Fall world. The family Bible has a page to record deaths, not just births and weddings. The Bible and orthodox theology teach us that the imago Dei was distorted but not obliterated. Hence there’s some sorting to do: what manifests created goodness, and what manifests fallenness? At the very least, XY is still XY, and XX is XX. But modern thought seems to pit Mars against Venus.

Distortions of maleness, femaleness, and procreation are not uniquely modern. They go all the way back to Genesis, although more often in Genesis, a distorted view of procreative power made a mockery of pure eros (“Give me children, or else I die!”), while today a distorted view of eros makes a mockery of procreation (“If my sexcapades produce a child, happy is the abortion doctor who takes and dashes my little one against the stones!”). Instead of males with strong and tender initiative, deadbeat dads. Instead of mothers making their children older, mothers who have stalled in their own adolescence. Instead of till-death-do-us-part covenant love, there are casual hook-ups, unstable live-in relationships, marital infidelity, divorce, and such an overturning of natural affection in families that will keep Jerry Springer busy well past retirement age. Males and females now insist on their own self-sufficiency, rather than complementary roles. Some feminists want to be just like men, and as Wendy Shalit ably argued in A Return to Modesty, such feminists are the real misogynists, because for them, womanhood qua womanhood is a bad thing. But don’t worry. For as many women who want to be just like men, there are men who want to be like women, and shun the job of actually leading a woman and raising a family. They can be gay. They can go to Massachusetts.

What was it like in Eden? A man and a woman, unashamedly naked?

I cannot remember who pointed out to me that Satan, who would love to get at God but has found God a smidge out of reach, has settled for desecrating God’s image. If my hypothesis that maleness, femaleness, and procreation have a central significance in the imago Dei (as Genesis 1–2 suggests), then it’s no wonder Satan has made such a target of maleness, femaleness, and sexual procreation. When God looks at the human race, instead of a pleasing reflection of Himself, he sees a hideous mutant. A troubled young man once asked me what’s so egregious with sexual sin. Answer: it goes down to the core. Look, your gut tells you, and the Bible makes pretty plain, that sexual sins are different from the other sins. This one-flesh thing is pretty big, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. Not a race of males, or a race of females, but a race of males and females joined one-on-one in covenant love. Make no mistake, I want to love and minister to such sinners the same way I’d minister to any other. But I can’t help shuddering at the unnaturalness of it all. I can’t help looking at them the same way I looked at the two-headed goat in that museum years ago. Something went wrong. I wonder if the goat managed to convince himself that he was normal.

We’re back to redemption, that is, the same procreative process that went haywire is instrumental in our salvation. It is the woman’s seed that crushes the serpent (Gen. 3:15). As all in the first Adam die, so all in the second Adam shall be made alive (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15). Yet the second Adam was a son of the first (Luke 3). Hebrews 2 tells us that He had to be so (in paraphrase, with comment): The Person of our Savior added to Himself, not the nature of angels, but of humanity. Angels have no racial unity and no federal head; humanity does. (Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that fallen angels aren’t redeemed.) Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8. What is man, that God is mindful of him, or the son of man, that God should visit him? God put all things under humanity, but humanity fell; nevertheless, God will still put all things under humanity, in that He will put all things under the man Christ Jesus. God will bring many sons to glory. Christ who died for our sins is biologically related to us all and is not ashamed to call us brothers, is glad to have us as joint heirs with Him. He was born in flesh and blood that through death, He might destroy the devil. And He will sanctify us, make us like Himself. God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son. Imago Dei is forever merged with imago Christi. The angels have desired to look into it, but we, we are in the thick of it.

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