Corruption of the Divine Image

This article is the first of a series that looks deep into the book of Genesis to discover biblical lessons that can be applied in missions. It is an attempt to construct a biblical missiology that proceeds, a priori, from the Bible. My desire is that the starting point of missiology would be the Bible, rather than empirical observation and experience. We must read the Scriptures not to search for support for our presuppositions, but rather to discover God’s heart and mind.

Let us start from the Beginning.
The Bible, cover to cover, is a divine romance – the story of God’s love for his creation, man’s rebellion, and God’s redemption. The story begins at the very beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth. He looked at his creation and saw it was good. What does good mean? The Hebrew for good is (tov מְאֹ֑ד) which has three senses: First Tov means it is good which means that God’s creation was perfect. No part of it was defective or spoiled. Second, good means that God’s creation was beautiful. Third, good means that God’s creation was whole, not broken or divided. Everything was knit together in full harmony.

In His Image:
God topped off his creation with the best of his handiwork. He made man in his image. In Hebrew in his image (Tselem Elohim צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים) means sharing in God’s nature and attributes.

God looked again and saw that it was very good (tov meod  מְאֹ֑ד ט֖וֹב) because man was the crown of his creation, his masterpiece and the bearer of his divine attributes. He put his Spirit in us and gave us the capacity to fellowship with him and with our kind. This includes the disposition for social and cultural interaction. God’s design for people was to live together in perfect harmony.

The Lost Image:
Sadly the beautiful and perfect image of God in us was disfigured as a result of the fall. Genesis 3 tells the story. Ever since, man has been stumbling in darkness, distant from God and struggling with the Sin that has contaminated our once holy nature and corrupted the perfect image of God in us. Humanity was plunged into unthinkable evil, touching every aspect of man’s heart, mind, body, and soul. The compounded evil of many meant corruption of family, society, and culture as well.

Man’s wickedness was so all encompassing that unbelievers are called “wicked” in the Old Testament and “sinners” in the New Testament. Without exception:

“all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Jesus describes man’s corrupt condition with a laundry list of sins:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. Mark 7:21-22

The Old Testament is not any easier on man’s sinful nature. As early as the seventh century B.C., the prophet Jeremiah described the heart this way:

“The heart is deceitful above all, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 

Yet a much older verse is the clearest and most damning description of man’s nature in the entire Bible. It goes beyond individual sin to the entire society and culture:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.Genesis 6:5

Although all Christians believe that all humans are sinners, corrupted by evil, many people today would not accept this judgement when applied to the entire human race – evidenced by the fact that many would not call culture evil, even though it is understood by cultural anthropologists as an all-encompassing sum of what any human being is and does.

E.B. Taylor, the father of cultural anthropology, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs, and many other capabilities and habits acquired by…[members]of society.”
Though the social sciences themselves do not acknowledge the existence of sin, Christians must conclude that human culture at the core is, in fact evil.  If culture is “that complex whole” of humanity, and if the Bible teaches that the image of God in humans has been corrupted, leaving them totally depraved and evil, then human culture itself is equally evil.

What do you think? Is culture evil according to the Bible? How does God view cultures?

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