During Christmas, my older son, Christian, watched old home movies with me, my wife, and my parents. The videos were primarily of a time when I was about the same age as Christian and his younger brother, Isaac. “That looks just like Isaac!” Christian remarked several time whenever my younger self made some face or reacted in a certain way on the video. It was in those moments that Isaac “bore my image.” He grew up watching me and so picked up some of my mannerisms and actions. (I’m sure there were points in the videos that Christian could have remarked, “That looks just like me!” but Christian doesn’t see himself as others do.) Just as Isaac bears my image, the Bible begins with a story of God creating us to bear his image (Gen 1:1-2:4).
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The first thing we find in the text is that we are imagined by a creative God. The story begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the dark chaotic waters. And then God created light and separated it from the darkness, the first of many creative acts over six days progressively remaking that dark, chaotic, watery mess into an orderly, diverse, and beautiful cosmos. The movement from chaotic darkness to order and light is even emphasized with the daily summary statement: there was evening and there was morning, the x day. By the end of the sixth day, God saw his creation was very good, so on the seventh day he assumed his sabbath rest from this creative work. What hope this story holds for our moment in history. 2020 has been a dark, chaotic, turbulent time–a time when many felt they were drowning in the churning waters of gloom and darkness. As a new year dawns, we can trust God that he is still in the ordering, creating, beautifying business. He can bring light and order to our new year even in the midst of the pandemic’s continuing chaotic disruptions and moments of dark despair.
In the story, God simply speaks and his will is done. He doesn’t wrestle with the chaos. He doesn’t have to exert himself in labor. The story emphasizes God is powerful, so we can place our faith in him to care for us. Days 1-3 emphasize there is no place in creation that he did not make. Days 4-6 tell us everything that exists in all of these spaces was also made my him. Therefore, we can trust him, for there is no danger too great, no obstacle too big, no mission too difficult. The same creative Spirit that ordered this chaos now lives within those who serve the risen Christ. While we often wish we could jump immediately to day seven, the day of rest, we usually find our immediate circumstances to be chaotic or even dark as we wait on God to finish the work he is doing. Even so, we can trust God to see us through, for the story helps us see that God has a plan that leads to a beautiful destination.
A second key insight we find in the text is that we are created as image-bearers and co-creators. The climax of the first creation story is that we are created in the image of God. While some older English translations speak of God making “man” in his image (in its older sense of all humankind), most modern translations speak of “humankind” or “humanity.” This is clearly the meaning of the text as its next statement says humanity was created “male and female.” The second creation story emphasizes that humanity is not truly humanity until it consists of both males and females (for the male is incomplete until the female is created at the end of the story). The image as “male and female” helps us conceive of a great God who is bigger than all of us. God is neither male nor female, but the best qualities seen in males and the best qualities observed in females provide us a glimpse into the character of God.
This social dimension of the image of God (male and female) emphasizes the vital importance of community. The second creation story culminates with the cry of the male that the female is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” While on one level this is focused on the institution of marriage, the larger emphasis with the two creation stories is that humanity is not “according to its kind” (a phrase used of the animals in the first story) until the male discovers another of his kind, even though she is at the same time different from him. The animals prior to the woman’s creation were not sufficient, for they could not provide the true community needed for human flourishing. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we are made for community and not isolation. True, healthy community is ultimately discovered through personal, face-to-face connections. Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, and other “social media” are helpful temporary patches (especially during lock-down), but they can never replace genuine community. This past year certainly showed us that social media can be weaponized when we are not in community, making these tools no longer “social” and certainly not civil. Christians should not engage in such anti-social behavior (though unfortunately, they did). Instead, we should seek to be one image as one body, just as the God whom we image is both one yet also a society of Father, Son, and Spirit. Our call to unity should always welcome and accept diversity within our community.
Humans as the “image of God” also means that we are living, breathing idols of our God. The importance the Bible gives to each human as bearing God’s image is precisely why idolatry is prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Sometimes Christians are confused by the 330 million gods of Hinduism which are said to represent different aspects or sides of the one God–yet our Bible teaches us that we have almost 8 billion images of the one God! But we do not need idols made of stone, metal, or wood to help us learn about God or to aid us in demonstrating our devotion to God. We have each other. This is why the prophets were so concerned about injustice and unrighteousness. True worship of God is to treat your neighbor as yourself and to do to others as you would want them to do to you. That we are the image of God means that every word we speak matters, for we speak for God. Every act we do matters, for we act on behalf of God. Because every human is made in the image of God, it matters how we treat one another. “They” are not our enemy to slander or destroy. “They” should be honored as the very image of God–even when we disagree with something they say or do. This is why Jesus, when his opponents attempted to trap him with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, held up a coin and asked whose “image” was on the coin. When they said Caesar’s, Jesus told them to give to Caesar what bears Caesar’s image and to give to God what bears God’s image (ourselves). In other words, stop worrying about the taxes and the politics and just love your neighbor. If you do, everything else will work out.
Humans as image-bearers are also given dominion over creation. In the Ancient Near East, it was normally the king who was the image of God and this image gave him the right to rule. All others served the king. But the Bible takes the radical step to place the burden of dominion on us all. We are all kings and queens. God is to rule over us and we are to rule over creation. Unfortunately, dominion too often has been misunderstood by Christians to mean we can do whatever we like with the world. Look at the current climate concerns that exist. (Regardless of your view on the extent of humanity’s impact on climate change, 2020 helped us see that we can indeed make changes that do benefit the rest of creation). The biblical view of dominion, however, is that of responsible stewardship. We are to tend the garden (in the second creation story). We are to care for animals. We are not to misuse the land.
Finally, the call to be in the image of God means that we are intended to be co-creators with God. The Ancient Near Eastern creation myths tended to say humans were created as servants for the gods (that is, the priests and the king–those who were the representatives of the gods). But Genesis emphasizes that we are created to be creators with God. God names the spaces in the start of the first creation story (e.g., light, sky, land) but not the many animals that fill those spaces in the latter part of the story. Yet in the second creation story, God creates various animals and brings them to the human to name. It is the first act of co-creation. We are created not only to think and to be self-aware but to be creative. Music, art, dance, science, technology–all of these flow out of us. We are the only creature who can imagine things that are not (such as communicators in Star Trek or radio-watches in Dick Tracy) and decades later create those imagined things (smartphones–especially the original flip phones–and wearable technology). The call to co-create carries throughout the Bible into the new creation of the Revelation. We do not find a return to a garden at the end of the Bible but the emergence of a city that has a garden within it.
So if humanity was created to be image-bearers, to live in community, to reflect God to one another, to rule over God’s creation for him, and to co-create with him . . . why is the world the way it is? Genesis 3 talks about a fall that changes humans in some manner so that we are exiled from the presence of God, while the rest of the Bible is about God’s restoration of creation. It is like we are mirrors intended to reflect God to one another but our mirrors are now shifted so that they do not reflect properly. Some reflect a partial image. Others may be warped so the image is skewed. Yet others have moved so much that there is not even a partial reflection of God remaining. This is what we often call sin and it impacts all of us, non-Christians and Christians alike.
This fallen image leads us to the final idea from the passage. We are reimaged for the new creation. The New Testament refocuses us on Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. He is said to be the image of the invisible God. Christians are called to put off the old man (Adam) and put on the new man (Christ), an action which helps renew us as the image of God. That is, we consciously strive to stop living a life of sin and start conforming our life to the image of God’s Son, Jesus. Day by day we continue this process, though it will not ultimately be fulfilled until the resurrection from the dead.
This resurrection will take place in a new creation. While many Christians today speak of “going to heaven,” that is not a concept found in the Bible itself (at least, it is not the primary goal). God’s creative work is still ongoing. Those who are baptized into Christ and follow him already are the first glimpses of this coming new creation, which Peter says in his second letter will culminate in a new heavens and new earth of righteousness after this creation is destroyed by fire. But interestingly, both 2 Peter and the Revelation do not use the Greek word for “brand new” (neos) but the one for “refurbished” or “renewed” (kainos). God will not destroy this creation but will renew and restore it so that finally heaven and earth will be united.
If God would have to annihilate the present cosmos, Satan would have won a great victory. For then Satan would have succeeded in so devastatingly corrupting the present cosmos and the present earth that God could do nothing with it but to blot it totally out of existence. But Satan has been decisively defeated. God will reveal the full dimensions of that defeat when he shall renew this very earth on which Satan deceived mankind and finally banish from it all the results of Satan’s evil machinations.Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 281
This is what we see even in the first creation story. We try to read the story sometimes as if it is all past, as if it is trying to teach us about the very beginning of things. Genesis 1:1-2:4, however, is giving us the grand introduction to the divine project that will encompass the remainder of the Bible. You will note that in days one through six of the story, there is evening and there is morning. On day seven, however, after God has declared all that has gone before to be “very good,” God rests. He enters into his creation as gods of the ancient world would be conceived to enter into their temples. And as heaven and earth become one, there is no final repetition of evening and morning in day 7. It just “is.” Zechariah and Isaiah pick up on this hope of an eternal day–a time when creation will finally be complete as God intends it to be. The Revelation picks up these same ideas by saying there is no need for sun nor moon for God is the light and the Lamb is his lamp. Day seven has not yet happened. It will only happen when God’s project is complete.
There is a story about a father working hard at home on a project that was due the next day at his office. His nine year old son persistently asked to “help” on the project, so the father decided he needed something to distract his son. The father noticed a map of the world in a magazine on the table and gently tore the page out. He cut the world into little pieces and handed these–along with tape–to his son. He told the son it was a puzzle to put together, confident it would take days to finish such a difficult task. In a couple of hours, however, his son called out that he was finished. The father had doubts, since the son had never really seen the whole world and shouldn’t know how to quickly reassemble it, but sure enough the picture of the world was complete and in tact. “How did you do it?” he asked. The son said that as his father pulled the map out of the magazine, he noticed there was a man’s face on the other side of the page. When the boy started having difficulty putting the world together, he decided to flip the pieces and reassemble the image of the man instead. When he finished restoring the man’s face, he found the world was also put back together. We are created to bear the image of God to the world. When Christians begin to reflect the image of Christ, our community, our problems, our world will begin to be put back to rights. It will begin to be healed. We are invited by the almighty God to co-create with him as he builds the new creation–starting with each of us.
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