The Lord … stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person… (Zech.12:1)
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Is.43:7)
For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Is.45:18)
We return to the narrative of Genesis. The sixth day is not completed even with the creation of the living creatures. All is declared good, fit for purpose. But then the apex. Only after the creation of mankind in His own image, male and female, is creation declared to be not just good, but very good (1:31). With the forming from the dust of the ground, and the breathing of life, we come to the boundary between the rest of creation and the beginning of history. All that has been summoned into existence has been providing a habitat for this crowning moment (Is.45:18). It is hard to overestimate the centrality of humanity in the project of creation. All else is formed with this one great climactic moment in mind. All serves this one ambition of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the creation of mankind in His image and likeness (Gen.1:26). This is done so that (note: causal intention) they may rule over all aspects of earthly life. That is our purpose, and no amount of fashionable angst, insecurity or guilt can change it.
Of course this is immediately qualified by the realisation that our rule is derived and contingent. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Ps.24:1), and it is so in a far more profound sense than it is ours. Yet neither can that all important qualification undermine the reality of the Lord’s delegation to his image bearers. There is no ambiguity in His purpose. Gen.1:26 reveals the internal counsel of the Trinity, and makes plain His objective. Those who bear His image, and His likeness will rule in His stead. They will literally be God-like in their relationship
with all else that is created. The destiny of all that God has made in the hands of these creatures of the dust.
The magnificence of 1:28 is breath-taking. For the first time in the everlasting ages of eternity, God speaks to someone outside of Himself. This is not the same as His declarations of the previous 5 days. His decrees were to that which though it bears witness to His glory, does not bear His image. But here He speaks with someone, a person who is external to the immediate life of God Himself. Such a thing is almost beyond belief. The first words of command underline the relationship between creation and Creator, but what is truly staggering is that humanity is mandated to continue the very work of God.
Remember from Study 4 how we noted that in some ways Genesis Ch.1 was the story not so much of God creating ex nihilo (out of nothing, finished in Gen.1:2, cf. Romans 4:17, [God] calls into being things that were not). It is rather the story of God filling what is empty and bringing order out of the formless chaos. It is the story of God filling His creation with light and life. Now these image-bearers are caught up into the work of God. They too must ‘be fruitful, increase in number; fill the earth…’. As image bearers they take forth the light of God, and in their fruitfulness they fill the emptiness of the earth. But they are also to ‘subdue [and] rule over…’, bringing order and structure to the remainder of the earth (we’ll revisit this in our next study). They play the role of God, representing God’s gracious and life-giving decree to all that God has given them… which is everything (Gen.1:29)!
These creatures of the dust, that moments ago were not even in existence, have been gifted with the entirety of God’s earthly creation. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to the human race (Ps.115:16). We find it near impossible to disentangle the wisdom of this mandate from the chaos of human history. We only have the history of fallen humanity to measure it by. But this was so glorious a delegation that at the time, the Lord Himself felt free to step back, declare it ‘very good’, and entrusting all to his vice-regents, to rest. We were trusted to be the guardians of the entire ecological matrix of the planet. It’s not as if we were limited to a passive ‘maintain the status quo’ vision. We were mandated to proactively shape the life of earth, to enrich the experience of its ‘vast array’ (Gen.2:1). How much we must have squandered. How desperately far we fell on that first Sabbath.
What do you think it means to be human? What is it that separates us from the rest of creation?
As a Christian, what do you make of the gender revolution our culture is currently undergoing? How do you navigate it?
It is argued that Christianity bears the guilt for the environmental crisis because of the sense of entitlement that comes from the idea that we are ‘superior to nature’. As one scholar writes: ‘We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence but to serve man (sic) … the Christian arrogance towards nature means that no solution for our ecological crisis can be expected from them alone’ (Lynn White, The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, 1967). Do you agree? Why / why not?
Read Genesis 1:26-2:3
What do you think is the ‘image of God’ in which we are made? …how, if at all, is it different from His likeness? Do you think it is significant that ‘likeness’ is not mentioned in Gen.1:27?
In our fallen state, do you think humanity retains anything of that image? Or did we lose it all? Or did we take on a different image?
‘male and female He created them…’ What distinguishes ‘male’ and ‘female’? Is it more than physical differences? Should those distinguishing characteristics have any impact on our roles within family, Church or society? If so, what?
Do you think it is possible to change from ‘male’ to ‘female’, or vice versa?
Note the end of v.30: Do you think Christians should be vegetarians?
On the seventh day He rested. Do you think Christians should honour the Sabbath (or by virtue of Christ’s resurrection, the Lord’s Day)? Why / why not? If you think we should, how?
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
For Further Reflection:
Even this short foray into the creation of humanity has given us a sense of the deep crisis that confronts our thinking about ourselves. The questions of who we are and what it means to be human have challenged the mind of every generation. It has been suggested that no age knows so much about humanity, whilst simultaneously knowing so little about what humanity is. As we have lost (suppressed) our knowledge of God, we have been left with no object more worthy of study than ourselves. Paradoxically, as we lose our understanding of God, we lose precisely the capacity to understand what we are and why. The Church has long taught that we can only understand ourselves in relationship with our understanding of God.
Contrary to Lynn White, it is only from Christians that we can expect a solution to the ecological crisis, and to every other crisis we face. Only Christians understand who God is, and so only Christians can hope to understand humanity, who we are, and what has gone wrong.
But it isn’t just about knowledge and understanding. We need more than knowledge. We need implementation. And it is only in Christ can we hope to experience the change necessary to bring the resolution our world so desperately needs. Only Christians can become what humans were created to be. As the Apostle Paul wrote so long ago: those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Rom.8:29, see also Col.3:10).