Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
For all the glory of the galaxies, and the brightness of the stars, still it appears that we humans are the apex of God’s creation, for only we were created in the image of God. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
What Does It Mean?
What does it mean to be “created in God’s image”? Obviously it has nothing to do with physical form, for the One who created physical reality is not a physical being himself. It doesn’t have anything to do with sharing in God’s infinite perfections: omnipresence, omnipotence, perfect knowledge and goodness, and so on.
Rather it means that we share a degree of God’s attributes of personality: intellect, emotions, will, relationship, responsibility, and moral significance. Let me expand those categories briefly:
Intellect: We can think and learn.
Emotions: We can love and have joy, or we can hurt and grieve.
Will: We can make our own free choices.
Relationship: We can live in intentional relationship with God, humans, and the rest of creation.
Responsibility: We have genuine impact and accountability with respect to our effects on our own lives and the lives of other humans. We have a stewardship over the earth. We can create, build, grow things, and make a future that is ours. Or we can fail to do these things.
Moral Significance: In all of things, we can do good, or not. Our choices have moral significance in a universe where morality is as real as the ground we walk on.
Glorifying God By Reflecting His Image
God is glorified in our expression of his image. Christians are familiar with the idea that “spiritual” activities glorify God. Worship, prayer, studying God’s character and his ways—these are all uniquely human things we do, made possible uniquely by being in God’s image.
We glorify God as we live out his image in us in other ways, too. Someone said to me once, “Surely the spiritual aspects of our lives are more important than the non-spiritual ones.” I answered, “I suppose you might be right—but tell me, what are these ‘non-spiritual aspects?’ Are they the parts of our lives that God isn’t interested in?” He got the point. It’s all significant. It’s all spiritual.
Let me illustrate further by pointing to two significant human activities that many Christians consider less than fully “spiritual:” work and art.
Work is not a curse that was placed on us after the Fall. Hard labor, in which the ground fights back against us, which makes the back ache or (more currently) the carpal tunnels inflamed; and leaves us wondering whether the rain will fall and the food will really grow, or whether the money will last till the next paycheck—that’s the curse.
But work itself was meant to be a good thing. It’s how we shape our world. It’s how we create. It’s one of the main contexts wherein we relate to one another: doing things together. It’s how we bless one another. It’s how we express our individuality, while sharing in community.
I remember reading a book on leadership by John Kotter. He was speaking about how someone at KFC had devised a new sandwich for them to sell. It took a lot to get that sandwich to market: developing the recipe; doing market analysis; building a new kind of sandwich cooker; distributing the cooker to all the restaurants; training the employees; acquiring, prepping, and shipping the ingredients; pricing the product; running a promotional campaign; and probably a whole lot more besides. Kotter wrote at length about how fired up the manager in charge of it all was throughout the process.
My first thought when I read it was, Oh, good grief. Who can get so excited about a dumb sandwich? Aren’t there more important things in life than that? But then I remembered all the fast food sandwiches I had eaten, and I had to genuinely repent: Thank God for managers like that! They’ve blessed my life thousands of times. They’ve blessed multiple millions of other people, too. And so have the people in the restaurants who make each individual sandwich, and ring them up for us, and clean the tables after we eat.
I’m sure you can see how this applies to more than sandwiches. Your work is a contribution you make as one individual, which becomes a blessing to the whole community. It’s a reflection of the image of God. Our work is one of the two or three most important domains where we live out the creative, contributing stewardship for which he created us.
Similarly with the arts. A good book is a good thing, even if it’s not about the Bible. So is a great piece of music, or a beautifully designed building, or an outstanding film or play. God made us creative as he is creative, and to participate by creating is to reflect his image. To enjoy and to appreciate others’ creativity is, too. And again, it doesn’t have to be about “spiritual” things.
Obviously any of these things can go wrong, and in many tragic ways they have. Creativity gone bad has given is our contemporary film and TV wasteland of sin and degradation. We could all name multiple examples like that, but that’s our next topic in this series. For now I want to emphasize that work, creativity, and stewardship were part of God’s plan for us before our fall into sinful rebellion against God.
Work and creating are only illustrations of God’s image in us, by the way. I could have chosen many others. Our relational need for each other (“It is not good for the man to be alone”) came before the Fall. Our moral significance preceded the fall; otherwise it could not have been a moral sort of Fall. I could say more but I will move on instead. More tomorrow!
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