One of my favorite ideas to talk about comes from the first pages of the Bible—Genesis 1:26-28. Here’s the first part of the passage:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God creates humans in his what? Image! All of humanity is made in God’s image—a truth that many of us are quick to proclaim (rightly so) as the foundation for our belief that humanity is unique from the rest of creation and that every individual is important and has inherent value. But that’s not all that the Image of God is about, and I think often we stop at recognizing the Image of God as a basis for human value and miss out on the concept’s primary meaning. The fact that humans are made in the Image of God has to do with our role in the world.
Think about it—what is an image? I often think of a picture as a synonym; a representation or reflection of something else. So, for example, if I showed you a picture of my wife, Ellie, what is important about that picture? The fact that it shows you what Ellie looks like. And you judge whether the picture is fulfilling its purpose by how well it represents or reflects Ellie to you. The picture isn’t Ellie herself, but it’s only a picture of Ellie when it represents her well. We can think in much the same way when we talk about humanity as images of God—it means that our purpose and our design is to represent and reflect God into the world around us. And whether we are fulfilling our purpose is judged by how well we are representing or reflecting God.
So, what does it look like to represent God well? The remainder of the passage (and the rest of the Bible!) has something to say about it:
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
As you read through Genesis 1 and onward, we find that God’s very nature is to bring about goodness and life. So, to reflect him, everything we do should be headed toward that end—bringing about goodness and life. And in this verse, we find God’s commission and purpose for humanity; to partner with God and bring about goodness and life in this world. God offers us some authority and asks us to rule the world as he would—by doing things that fill it with more life and by subduing it, which here means cultivating it and harnessing the world’s potential, caring for it and making it a place where life can flourish.
As we recognize what it means to be the Image of God, we’re ultimately faced with a choice about how we carry on our lives—are we going to trust in God’s wisdom and thereby rule and live in the world as he would? Or, are we going to go against God’s wisdom and decide what is good for us and this world on our own terms? I’ve found that the second option is often what leads us to the many problems and evils that our world faces today.
So, my challenge for you this morning is this: what is God like? And how can you represent him well as you carry on your life today?
Middle School Pastor