Violence, evil inclination and the image of God

Noah’s relevance today.

By Anat Schneider | | Topics: Weekly Torah Portion
Noah offers a sacrifice - by Koch and Schick 1803 - public domain - Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main CR
Noah offers a sacrifice - by Koch and Schick 1803 - public domain - Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main CR

In the Torah portion called “Noah” we see two accounts of creation and two messages. (Gen 5:9 – 11:32)

Genesis unfolds before us the story of creation, followed by the destruction of creation, then a renewed creation.

In the beginning God creates order, but man disrupts this order to the point that “The earth was filled with violence.” (“hamas” in Hebrew; 6:13)

And God decides to bring a flood and wipe out life from the face of the earth, except for Noah’s family members and the animals he collected in the ark. Yet after the flood, it can be said that the land reached almost the same state in which we found it in chapter 1 of Genesis:

“Chaos (‘tohu va’vohu’) and darkness were over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.”

After the flood of judgement and destruction, God swore that he would never again wipe out all life from the face of the earth. (But God has no guarantee that humans will not do it to themselves.) Then God begins anew. Adam’s place is taken by Noah who is the father of the “new” humanity. Chapter 9 in the book of Genesis is therefore parallel to chapter 1 in the book of Genesis.

Both have a key word that is repeated 7 times. In chapter 1 the repeated word is ‘good.’ And in chapter 9 the repeated word is ‘covenant.’

Chapter one says “In the image of God He created him.” Whereas in chapter nine God says “The one who sheds human blood, by a human will his blood be shed, for in God’s image He made humanity. (TLV)”

The difference between the two creations is fundamental. In chapter 1 God tells me and each of us personally that we are made in God’s image. Whereas in chapter 9 God tells us that the “other,” our fellow man, is made in God’s image.

Chapter 1 talks about man’s control over the rest of the creatures, and the power of humanity’s potential. Whereas chapter 9 talks about the sanctity of life and the prohibition of murder, and sets up for us moral limits of power.

We are literally forbidden to take another person’s life. And so the word also changed from good to covenant, in the second creation. A covenant is a moral bond between people.

In the second creation, God’s lowers his expectation that humans will be good, even though that’s how he created them.

“I will never again curse the ground on account of man, even though the inclination of the heart of humankind is evil from youth. Nor will I ever again smite all living creatures, as I have done.”

That is, as soon as a child begins to grow and make choices, his instinctive inclination takes over and often turns him toward evil, even though he was created in the image of God.

God is one. But man is not, and that is the point here. If man was alone then perhaps he would live in peace with creation. But “It is not good for man to be alone…” Man is a social creature, yet when he thinks he can act like God over another person, the result is violence.

Therefore a person or group who think of themselves too highly compared to others, are a terrible danger to humanity. And so after the flood it was important for God to let man understand that the people around us are created in the image of God just as we are. And if we manage to see it this way – that all human beings are created in the image of God – we will refrain from violence and self-destruction.

We should all ask ourselves this non-trivial question:

Can I see the image of God in someone who is not made in “my image”? Who is different from me?

Can I see someone whose skin color, language, culture or beliefs are different from mine, as still created in God’s image?

After all, our greatest fear is of people who are different from us, who do not look and act like us. And this is a primary cause of violence ever since the dawn of humanity. Those who are different are always seen as a threat by us. But if we manage to embrace the idea that even those who are different from us were made in the image of God, we may be able to prevent the great fall that caused the flood to come to the world.

In the second creation I am required to remember that other humans besides me were also created in God’s image. And we have no bigger challenge in the world today.

There is a song that Aviel loves in a special way. Every time it is played he tears up – a song that speaks precisely about the ability to sacrifice for others, and to see others as a brother.

Here is a link to the song called: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

This article was inspired by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


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One response to “Violence, evil inclination and the image of God”

  1. Disciple 1978 says:

    A good point. Yet those who don’t heed the commands of God are scattered in the imagination of their hearts. (Luke 1:51) Hence, a multitude of religions exist that worship world spirits. Many are imagined gods, like the ancient pagan systems from Babylon to Rome. Modern man’s definition of freedom is “free to be me” without rules or restraint. In himself he is proud to be god above all gods. He considers eternal judgement irrelevant. Secular value systems are increasingly being empowered by legislation across the world. Noahide laws are foundational to Christianity (Acts 15:29) yet they are neither taught nor followed. Racial, religious and ethnic prejudices are exploited for power. (James 4:1) Loving your neighbour is held more than loving God, but both are sacrificed on the altar of self. The image of God is wilfully forsaken for the imaginations of self. Art forms and ideology bolster the deception.

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