It is a chemical element (Fe, atomic # 26) on the Periodic Table of the Elements. It is a metal. It is the most common element on earth, by mass.
There really isn’t a whole lot special about iron
But there are a lot of special things made from iron. Some really beautiful things, as a matter of fact. Iron is often used to make cast-iron furniture, cookware, and railings. It can be wrought into a variety of shapes and intricate designs.
A lot of ironworks are quite valuable – which means, the items are not valuable because they are made of iron, but have their value in how they’ve been crafted. In other words, it is not the iron but its use which defines its value.
One of the items in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” columns pictured a plain bar of iron worth $5. Made into horseshoes, that iron is worth $50. Made into needles, it is worth $5,000. Made into balance springs for Swiss watches, it is worth $500,000. It is not the material but its use that matters.
Denison Forum on Truth and Culture
What about people?
Technically we are made of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, sulfur, chlorine, and magnesium. There is nothing particularly special about any of those elements, either. At least they aren’t a whole lot more special than iron in the grand scheme of things. As a matter of fact, the same elements are present in the bodies of animals.
What makes us special, then? Or perhaps a first question is, are we in fact special?
God made man – and apparently most animal life as well – out of a set of 11-15 of the roughly 112 elements accepted by IUPAC as of May 2013.
There is nothing particularly unique about the materials necessary for life – but there is something different between us – humanity – and animals.
See, God set humans apart by making us in his own image to give him glory. The Westminster Catechism sums up our purpose as “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’ll be true when the elements from which we are made are decomposing in the soil.
Humans are unique in having such a purpose. God set man over creation for a specific use; to worship him, to take fill the earth with his image in us, to give him glory, and to show his character to a watching world.
Like iron, it is not the materials he used which set us apart as special, but how we are crafted for use.
See, I can take an iron crow bar and us it to pry things apart, or I can use the same crow bar to bust a window. It is still a crow bar. It doesn’t cease to be a crow bar just because I used it for burglary. Admitting it is a crow bar does not mean I condone the choice to misuse it. It simply means I recognize a crow bar as a crow bar. I can still see it could be put back into service as a crow bar, even if it was used to smash a window.
It gets a little trickier with people, though, doesn’t it?
We live in a fallen world and people sometimes mistake themselves for a god, and people sometimes misuse their bodies, their intellect, their heart/emotions, and their worship for wrong things.
But that doesn’t make me less human – it simply displays the brokenness of humanity.
So often we are no longer doing our job – being image bearers of God, taking dominion over the earth, and multiplying to fill the earth with God’s glory (though I must say the Quillens are doing their part on the multiplying part… lol). But failing to do our job doesn’t change what we were fundamentally created to do – or who we are ultimately created to be.
All people are created in the image of God, whether they recognize it, distort it, or live up to that amazing truth and honor it… or not.
Do I recognize my identity based on how I am made or sell myself short based what I am made of?
Do I hold humans – the born and the unborn, the young and the old, those who are presently making wise choices and those who are making foolish choices – as special because they are made in the image of God?
Do I honor the image of God in the man asking for money on the street corner? Or the politician with whom I have sharp disagreement? What about the terrorist who straps a bomb on a child in a foreign land? Am I willing to see the image of God in that human?
Whoever that human is for me…
Am I willing to pray for that human to recognize and return to his/her created purpose?
Am I willing to welcome that person into fellowship if they do?
It’s not really different than the question early Christians in Paul’s day had to ask themselves about the Christian-murdering-zealot-turned-preacher they were confronted with in Paul.
It’s not really different than what Christ was asked (and willing) to do to save me.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV