God’s Image and True Humanity
Proverbs 1, Genesis 1
I love the book of Genesis. It is first, foundational. It is where our faith story begins. It introduces us to God and God’s intentions. I think it is not surprising at all that the history of human redemption begins in the book of Genesis.
In all likelihood, I have missed the greater importance of the first chapter of Genesis in the past because I have minimized its import to the faith story. Don’t get me wrong: I still believe that much hinges on whether or not Genesis 1 is true, that is, on whether or not God actually created the heavens and the earth in all their vast array.
In recent days, however, I have started to look at Genesis deeper. I have written elsewhere that we probably miss a great deal of the importance of chapter 1 when we miss that we were created to live in relationship with God. He created us for fellowship. He created us to live with him, for him, and dependent upon him. Learning to live this way all over again, in Jesus, is a major aspect of our faith journey.
But we also learn about much about the God who created. We learn that in the beginning God created all things good. I take this to mean, since I’m reading English and not Hebrew, that he made all things perfect, incorruptible, and exactly the way they were meant to be. They lacked nothing. They were created in the fullness of a complete God. God didn’t create an incomplete or imperfect world.
We also learn that God created variety. I don’t happen to think that God is satisfied with a monotone, monochromatic world. He created trees and plants and animals in all sorts of variety. This is not a dull God. This is a God who will eventually draw unto himself people from every tribe, and tongue, and nation, under heaven.
We learn that God created order. This has been brought up by others so I won’t belabor the point here except to say: The world apart from God was chaos. It was madness. There are many forces in the world (sin, evil) that seek to return God’s created order back to a nonsensical chaos. God brought into being a world of peace that could be inhabited by creatures bearing his image.
There’s one other aspect I’d like to note about this creation account, the creation of light. Again, I’m reading English and not Hebrew, but if the English is anything close to the Hebrew then ‘light’ is mentioned 13 times. Interestingly enough, we first learn about the earth as a place of darkness, formless and empty. So the first thing that happens is God creates light. Presumably God did not need light to see. I assume he could ‘see’ even when the earth was cluttered with darkness and formlessness. So why did God create light? Well I think he created light so that we could see. God wanted us to be able to see all the good that he had created, what was impossible to see so long as the earth was shrouded in darkness. We need light to see.
In the light we are able to see the creation as God created it to be: Good, perfect, complete. It’s probably not ironic then that when the Gospel writers tell us of the death of Jesus they tell us that darkness covered the land for 3 hours (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33). The crucifixion of Jesus returned humanity, for a time, back to the pre-creation days when chaos and darkness covered the land; the world without Christ is chaos. Resurrection Sunday is like the dawn of a new day; morning when light breaks out all over again.
In the light we can also see that we have been made in his image. This is no small thing. We are made in his image and then we are charged with the responsibility of doing god-like work: Subduing the earth, ruling the creation, continuing the creation process by ‘being fruitful and multiplying,’ that is, filling the earth with more and more and more of God’s image bearers. We are his image, we are to perpetuate His image in this creation.
I think Jesus came to restore that purpose in us. Granted, it is far more complicated than just that. But part of the loss of innocence, so to speak, was a loss of purpose. God had instilled in us that purpose at the beginning: Bear His image, be fruitful, multiply. We lost that in sin. When Jesus dealt with sin, he restored our purpose: once again, we can be image bearers of God, we can fruitful, we can multiply. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus told us to do: “Go into the world, make disciples of all nations…and surely I am with you always.” This sounds just like the creation mandate: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ becomes make disciples’; ‘bear my image’ becomes ‘I am with you always.’
Part of making disciples is restoring to them purpose and image. This is the work of the Gospel. “But you are a people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who call you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) In other words, we are truly human inviting others to fulfill their created purpose in Christ.