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Imago Dei et Oratio

December 8, 2016

A man’s understanding of the origin of humanity shapes the entire structure of his belief about mankind. (Lewis Sperry Chafer)

Prayer involves many significant theological assumptions. The supplicant must believe God exists, God hears prayer and God responds to prayer. The supplicant must believe he has the ability to approach God and make requests of God. The supplicant must believe he has a need that only God can answer. These are not trivial assumptions. These beliefs reflect major suppositions about the nature, character and power of God. The act of praying expresses fundamental beliefs about the personality, ability and privileges of man. Prayer is the application of doctrine. To pray rightly one must have right doctrine.

To pray rightly one must have right doctrine about humanity. A Biblical doctrine of man begins in the beginning. On the sixth day of creation God made man in His own image. This truth is the distinguishing feature of humanity. If humanity did not bear the likeness of God mankind would be a creature of an entirely different nature.

Man has been given the highest honor of bearing the image of God. Man cannot conclude from this great privilege that man possesses a spark of the Divine or all the attributes of God. Some attributes of God are unavailable to man. Only God is Creator. Men may reflect God’s creativity, but never God’s power as Creator of all. Man cannot possess all knowledge, perfect wisdom and infinite presence. Though man does not possess all the glories of God he has been created with specific features which resemble his Creator.

Because man is made in the image of God he is a moral being able to understand and choose right from wrong. Contrast this with the animals. Setting aside our anthropomorphic tendencies for a moment can any animal discern the morality of an action? If a zoo keeper trains a chimpanzee not to fight with other chimps does the ape recognize that training as a moral imperative? Or does the chimpanzee merely respond to the force of the training to avoid the negative consequences of its disobedience? No animal ever acts out of moral or immoral impulse. No pet ever felt its actions were right or wrong. Yet man is able to feel the moral force of certain behavior. Even the most primitive, callous and barbaric people recognize a moral impulse. Though often man’s morals are skewed all mankind recognizes a difference between right from wrong. Animals may recognize do or do not, but only men recognize ought and ought not.

Because man is made in the image of God he is able to exceed the animal passions. A pet dog may be happy when its owner arrives home. A dog may show every sign of great happiness but it will never know joy. A cat may sit quietly for hours waiting for its prey to come within range, but it will never experience the patience of enduring graciously through long trials. A horse may show fondness for its master, but it will never feel self-sacrificing love. A flock of birds may have many in the group, but none will know true friendship or fellowship. Man is able to experience emotions that exceed mere biological responses.

Because man is made in the image of God he is a rational creature able to understand abstract matters. What gorilla ever reasoned about its own existence? What beast squatted on the side of the mountain and pondered whether it really existed? Some researchers today are considering it possible the universe is nothing more than a computer simulation and all men are programs within the great celestial software. Philosophers have long pondered whether or not man really exists. Though doubting the eality of mankind’s existence may seem ridiculous to those who are not philosophers the very ability to wonder about his existence sets man apart from beasts.

Because man is made in the image of God he is able to understand things like music and art. The most melodious bird does not sing for song’s sake. She does not set her feelings to music. She does not create beautiful sound for the sake of beauty. No dolphin creates art in the waves. He does not view a corral reef and revel in its majesty, sublimity, form or color. No animal expresses itself by creating an abstract expression of color, light and form. Only man creates things to express beauty and emotion. Only man goes beyond building for utility’s sake to craft for art’s sake.

Just as no animal makes art, so no animal admires the marvels of the world. No eagle sits atop a mountain and admires the grandeur of the creation spreading out beneath its gaze. No polar bear stares into the snowflakes and thrills that every one is unique. The mountain goats are not amazed by the sheer glory of the cliffs and the Bonobos are not mesmerized by the beauty of the flowering trees. Because man is made in the image of God he is capable of experiencing a sense of wonder and amazement. Only man is able to stare at the world around him, to peer out into the universe and to squint down at the microscopic with a sense of wonder, awe, amazement and reverence.

Because man is created in the image of God he bears within him a conscience that convicts of sin. What lion ever felt guilty for stealing prey from another lion? What shark ever felt guilty for annihilating an entire school of fish? Did any wild animal ever wrestle with the impact it’s actions were having on the environment? A well trained housepet may know it did something it should not have done. It may even know that it is doing something it has been trained not to do, but what housepet is convicted of its wrongdoing? What house pet feels guilty for it’s actions? A toddler on a rampage has greater capacity of internal conviction for wrong doing than any animal.

Because man is created in the image of God he is able to seek after God. Man is a worshiper. What parrot ever made a shrine, a temple or a holy place? What opossum bowed to its ancestors or prayed to heavens? Yet man is always worshiping. All around the world men worship. Only man seeks after God and is able to worship one greater than himself.

As the image bearer of God man is able to communicate with God. The very act of prayer reflects the singularness of man’s creation.The substance and manner of prayer should reveal the Biblical truths of who and what man is.

Man is creature, not Creator. Man bears the image of God but is not Divine. Man must pray because he is not God but dependent on God. Man’s prayer ought to express that dependence. Yet, if prayer is nothing more than impersonal begging it reflects little of man’s likeness to God. If prayer is a pursuit of the satisfaction of man’s base passion it falls far short of the glorious privilege which is prayer.

Prayer which reflects the uniqueness of man communicates with God in wonder, joy and amazement. Through prayer man can express to His Creator delight in His marvelous creation. Through prayer man can express to His Creator appreciation for God’s blessings, provision and care.

In prayer man is able to resolve his guilt for breaking the commands of God. Becauase man bears the image of God he feels the weight of his sin. The same conscience that prompts man to hide in shame from his Holy Creator also stirs man to go to his God with a plea for pardon.

The image of God that man bears has been disfigured by sin. The likeness remains, but it is not like it was. Through prayer man is shaped into a more perfect likeness to God. In prayer the worshiper’s mind, heart and longings are changed to be more like His Creator. The Christian in prayer seeks the will of God. He strives to know what God desires and pleads for God to accomplish His perfect plan. The Christian in prayer is brought into close communion with God. This intimate contact cannot fail to affect the one praying.

The prayer of man who knows the reality of his creation is an act of worship from the only earthly creatures truly able to worship. Though God could raise up rocks to sing his praises, He has not done so. He created man to worship Him. Through prayer man worships the God who made him with the ability to worship.

As image bearers of God men and women have a privilege that exceeds all others. No animal can bow before God in prayer. Angels worship but we have no record of angels praying. Only man prays. The great privilege of prayer flows from the purpose and uniqueness of man’s creation. Praying to the God of Heaven in accord with His will exercises this inestimable privilege.


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