“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Last week I told you that I would be pursuing three different occasional series through the beginning of this year. The first I introduced you to was a walkthrough the prophetic record of Amos. The third will be focused on managing the resources God has put within our sphere of influence well. Today, I want to introduce you to the second one. For the next several weeks, we are going to be taking a look at several different places in the Scriptures to get a better sense of God’s heart for the weak, vulnerable, oppressed, and rejected members of society. These folks come in many different forms, but every culture has them. Very often they are the ones who weren’t born there, but have arrived later in life for a variety of reasons. We are going to examine several passages throughout the Scriptures that help us better understand God’s passion for them. For this first part, we are going to look at the passage that ultimately grounds God’s compassion and love for all people. We’ve seen this one before, of course, but never from quite this angle. Let’s take a look.
The narrative of Genesis 1 is arranged very specifically. Moses was doing something intentional by putting all of the various parts and pieces where he did. No, that doesn’t mean I think he somehow made any of this up. But I also don’t think scientific specificity in the sort of terms we are accustomed to thinking today was at all on his radar. (In case that isn’t totally clear, I am not a young-earth creationist.) What I’m getting at is this: Moses’ ordering of the text here has God creating in a way that is gradually more specific and special as things roll forward. In this way, God saves the very best for last.
While God was delighted by all of His creation – there’s a reason after all He kept declaring it so good – God waited until the very end to reveal the crown jewel of the whole project. After making the rest of the world and filling it with all sorts of amazing and interesting creatures, God stoops down and makes one last thing. But unlike the rest of creation, He gets personal with this one. He takes some of the dirt of the ground, molds it gently and carefully into the form of a man, and breathes the breath of life into his nostrils. He would later put the man to sleep, take a rib out of his side, and form a woman from it into whom He also breathed the breath of life. How exactly this marvelous process unfolded we don’t know, but in the end, there was a man and a woman, two human beings.
We were different from the rest of creation. Not only had God made us much more intentionally and specially than He had anything else, not only had He given us the breath of life, but as Moses tells us right here, He created us in His image. Nothing else in the whole of the universe bore such a distinction. We reflected who God was (and is) in a way that was totally unique. He didn’t share His divine abilities with us, of course, but there was much yet that He did. He reflected into us His personality. He made us relational like He is. We were given the gift of creative, rational thought. We had the power to extend His creation project by bringing new things into existence. We had the ability to make meaningful and consequential choices, a gift of freedom given only to us in all of the world. We had genuine emotions rather than mere instincts. To a lesser, but no less important, degree, we shared in His dominion over creation. He made us to rule. Creation was put in our care. We were to govern and keep it as His personal, physical representatives. And, perhaps best of all, we could love. We were able to compassionately and mercifully and justly and righteously make sure creation continued to reflect His design and purpose.
Now, a fuller exploration of the weight and nature of the image of God is something we’ll have to do another time. The angle I want to make sure we don’t miss as we take the first step on this particular journey is that this gift of God’s image was not given merely to these first two humans. It wasn’t something given to only a class of people. It wasn’t something that could be earned or gained by effort. It was and is simply a function of our creation. It was given to all people for all time. Human beings are made in the image of God. Period. If there is a human being, that human being bears the image of God and is thus vested with all the rights and responsibilities such a distinction carries with it. There has never been a human being who was not a bearer of God’s image.
What this means is that all people bear a fundamental dignity and worth that cannot be altered or otherwise affected by anything. No person or experience can take it from them. It is not a distinction granted to us by society or the state. It is simply a fact of our existence. Neither is it something into which we gradually grow such that there is any point at which it is not fully and completely a part of who we are. There is no line that needs to be crossed in order for us to be said to have it. From the moment of our creation onward, we are each fully unique creatures each of whom entirely bear the weighty image of the God who created us.
This fact must deeply and vitally inform our approach to the people around us. All of them. All of the time. If at any point we think about or actively treat a fellow human being as if they were somehow less of an image bearer than we are, in that moment we are actively perpetuating a lie and committing a grave sin. We are then declaring God’s creation to be other than it is. We are creating a decidedly dystopian fantasy world and forcing the people around us to live there alongside of us. Few crimes approach this level of gravity. The reason for this is that when we begin thinking about people as less than fully human, eventually we will treat them as less than fully human. That altered designation will allow us to justify all manner of horrors the likes of which I don’t even want to try to put down on this digital paper. Such a fundamental failure to grasp the very nature of creation has been the spark that has ignited every human rights catastrophe across the whole history of humanity.
Just like perhaps as a parent you have a special burden for the child in your family who has a little harder of a time than the others for some reason, God Himself as a loving Father has a special burden for those children in His family who are facing a harder time because their reflection of His image is being doubted or denied in some way. Not only does He have a special burden of compassion for these of His children, but He has a special fury reserved for those who perpetuate their abuse and neglect and mistreatment. If we are complicit in this in any way, His fury will be reserved for and reflected upon us. There are a lot of things I want to be in this life, but a recipient of God’s special fury does not fall anywhere on that list.
What this means, and the idea we are going to be exploring together in the coming weeks, is that all people are worthy of dignity and respect as human persons. From the least to the greatest, from the youngest to the oldest, from the sickest to the healthiest, each one of us is equally a child of God, a perfectly and delightfully unique bearer of His image. Let’s make sure we know it and act like it. Let’s make sure we pursue policies that recognize and honor it. Let’s make sure we live in the world God made and not a false one waiting to be revealed as such.