I am not what anyone would characterize as a real salt, but I surely do love the water. I have held on for dear life as king mackerel peeled line off of my reel. I have been scuba diving right above a stingray that measured more than a dozen feet long. I have encountered some mighty big sharks in a much more up-close-and-personal way than I would have liked. I have delighted to watch dolphin ride the bow wave of my boat. I never cease to be awestruck by the life the sea holds.

Yet, as I reflect on it, no creature can mesmerize me like another human being. I don’t care if he or she is a great athlete, a brilliant intellect, or checks my groceries out at Winn-Dixie — there is nothing else in all creation that can compare to one who has been created in God’s image. Only herein lies the rub.

As magnificent as a king mackerel is, it will always act like a king mackerel. The same holds true for stingrays and sharks and every other creature that swims in the sea. Each and every one runs on their God-assigned characteristics. They can do no other. A mackerel cannot act like a stingray and a stingray will never act like a dolphin. They simply are what they are. The same holds true when we move out of the water and onto land or into air. Elephants act like elephants, sparrows act like sparrows, dogs act like dogs, and so it goes for every creature great and small.

Humans are different. Of course we have instincts just like all sentient beings, but there is something of the divine in us that separates us from the rest of creation — or at least it ought to. The biblical book of Genesis puts it this way,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, helps clarify what that means,

Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)

You see, man is the only creature who decides how he will act. God has gifted us with a great amount of freedom, but the expectation is that we will live in a way which glorifies him and blesses others. In his love, the Lord didn’t just lay those expectations on us and then walk away. Instead, our creator put within our very DNA what we might call natural religion. Thus, when we look at history across cultures and faiths and groups of people, we see that humans have exhibited very similar moral and ethical norms. They have formed the foundation upon which we have built our families, communities and nations literally since the beginning of time.

When we set those foundational norms aside and begin to decide for ourselves what we will believe about God, about humanity, and about how we will act, things have always turned out badly for us. It is a truth that has gone unnoticed by many in our current generation. Confident that humankind has come of age, there are a great many individuals who wish to establish new moral and ethical norms for our culture that set aside the historical foundations as primitive and outdated. These folks proclaim that their norms set people free from old constrictions on behavior. Sadly, they could not be more wrong.

When people cast off the natural religion that has united men and women of good will since the beginning of the human race, they simply set themselves up to fall under the personal proclivities of whoever holds power. And considering that everyone is connected to others whether they admit it or not (try not paying your taxes or light bill and see what happens!), look at the new norms being tossed in our direction, and you will notice that they are not so much indications of a humanity come-of-age, as they are a return to the basic instincts that make us more like the other creatures of the world. Sharks can only act like the predators they are. Clearly we are not fish but, by the way we live our lives, we can choose to more reflect the image of a shark than the image of our God.

In Christian circles, we call such decisions “sin,” and it afflicts all of us. Truly wise men and women recognize that our only way out is to humbly repent, seek the Lord’s forgiveness and recommit to living a life that reflects the characteristics of our Lord who has revealed himself most fully to us in his son, Jesus — the one who, by his death and resurrection, came to save us from ourselves and show us the very image of God.

The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.