God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 5)

 

We’ve come a long way.  We began with God’s good creation and saw it cursed.  We’ve seen God work through his people Israel eventually bringing about the True Israelite, indeed the True Human Being, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the perfect reflection of the image of God.  He is fit to rule God’s creation just as God intended and he goes about to do just that.  Where ever he finds things which are not like they are supposed to be he puts them right.  But “patch up” work will not suffice.  Jesus moves to strike sin and death at the root.  He submits himself to death and by doing so he quite mysteriously exhausts the power of sin and death bringing forgiveness and life to all under his rule.  Christ himself being freed from death in his resurrection now offers that life to all who are his.  But if Jesus conquered the powers of sin and death then why do people still sin and why do people still die?  This article will discuss this question and give us a picture of what it means for us to bear the image of God in God’s good (but fallen) world.

First, insofar as Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of all that God promised (Acts 13:32), we would do well to get a sense of what God promised.  A quick look at just a few scriptures will give us a sense of what the people expected God to do when he put things right.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 25:6-8)

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind … The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD” (Isa. 65:17-25)

These two passages, and many others could be named, picture the state of things when God puts things right.  All of “the former things” which are associated with the curse “shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  In fact, death itself will be destroyed and “the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  This time, when God puts all things right, is variously described as “the day of the LORD,” “the latter days,” or vaguely “a coming day.”

The picture we are left with is one “day” or “age” or “time” which is ruled by sin, death, injustice, and oppression and another day in which those things are done away with and God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, a time in which what God wants done is done.  And the picture of the prophets is that this happens quite abruptly.  All at once we pass from one age to the next.

Second, now that we know what was expected we know what we can look for Jesus to do.  As was shown in the previous article Jesus does what was expected.  So often whenever he sees things which are not as they should be he puts things right.  This the way the “kingdom of God” looks when it arrives (cf. Mat. 12:28).  Jesus fights and wins the ultimate victory against the powers of sin and death by his crucifixion.  He then is resurrected in a physical body which is never to die again (Acts 13:34).  His body is untouched by the curse.  His body is a little “bit” of that “age to come” in which death is destroyed.  But this is where the mystery appears.  The “age to come” did not arrive all at once.  We are in a sort of in between period, what theologians often call the now-and-not-yet.

For example, just before Jesus makes his finally entry into Jerusalem he goes to the house of a dear friend, Lazarus, who has just passed away.  Before Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ house his sister runs to meet Jesus.  Martha says to Jesus that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died.  In response Jesus makes his intentions quite clear.  He will resurrect Lazarus.  He says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). As explicit as Jesus might be the idea of someone rising from the dead in the middle of time was absurd.  That was an event reserved for “the age to come” or “the last day.”  In that day, when God’s kingdom comes an earth as it is in heaven, when death was overthrown all at once, then Lazarus would be resurrected.  Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24).  But Jesus is making a surprising claim.  That future world has rushed backwards to meet Lazarus in the present.  The kingdom of God, and indeed the resurrection, is present right there in Jesus Christ.  “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.'” (11:25).  This helps to explain the mystery of the now-and-not-yet.  Whereas the expectation was to leap immediately and all at once from “this age” to “the age to come,” the reality in Jesus is that those two ages actually overlap.  Yes the age to come has in fact arrived in Jesus but not in its totality.  That is still reserved for the future.  But the last days have begun.  We are living in them now.  And any who are attached to Jesus by faith and baptism have been “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred … into the kingdom” of Jesus (Col. 1:13).  This leads us to my final point.

Finally, we live in the overlapping of the ages.  This explains why people still die and people (even Christians) still sin.  We are still waiting for the fullness of our redemption.  But, that redemption has begun.  And that has serious consequences for the way that we ought to live in the world.

If God’s kingdom has been inaugurated on earth then all those who belong to him recognize that we are under new management.  And that means we must start acting like it.  After Jesus resurrection he gathered his apostles and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).  One teacher put it like this: what Jesus was for Israel they (and we) are to be to the world.  Just as Jesus went about “putting things right” so we are to do the same.

But we are not to repeat the sin of our first parents.  We cannot attempt to run the world however we see fit.  We are to do it under the sovereignty of God and we are helped along the way by the Holy Spirit.  “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (20:22).  Whenever a person is placed into Christ by faith and baptism he receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) which is else where described as “the pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14).  The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is a pledge or a promise.  It is a promise that the work which God has begun in us he will bring to its full and final fulfillment.  But again this implies that the work has already begun.  The image of God in us is being renewed “according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).  As we walk in step with the Spirit he brings forth the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).  It is by the Spirit that we build for God’s new world in the midst of this world.  And we are promised that our work “is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).  The good we do will not be forgotten.  Indeed it will have a part in God’s New Heavens and New Earth.

This is our duty.  This is what it means to be simply human.  Wherever we see death, we fight against it to bring life.  Wherever we find oppression we bring freedom.  When we see crookedness we bring justice.  Where ever we find division we bring unity.  Where ever we find war we bring peace.  When we find indifference we bring love.  Where ever we find anger we bring forgiveness.  God is making the world new in Jesus Christ.  It has already begun.  Our privilege is to partner with God.  We can be a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  We can build for that new world.  So join me.  Partner with God.  Be simply human.  Because you were born to.

©M. Benfield 2016

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 4)

 

God’s good creation has fallen under the curse.  He moves to redeem the world and he does so through Abraham and his family, the nation of Israel.  But, Israel too has fallen prey to the curse.  The rescuer needs rescuing.  That savior is Jesus of Nazareth.  He carries forth Israel’s Story.  He becomes representative of Israel and humanity itself.  He succeeds where we have failed.  In so doing he restores Israel and releases the blessing of New Creation into the world.  Let’s dive in and so how all of this works out.

The Gospels are those four books which give us most of what we know about Jesus’ life and each one in its own way makes a point of connecting Jesus’ story to both the Story of Israel as well as the long sad Story of human history.  For example, Matthew begins his Gospel with the words biblos geneseos (Βίβλος γενέσεως) in Greek which means “The book of the generation” or “the book of the genealogy.”  This may not seem overly significant until one realizes that those words form the very chorus of the book of Genesis.  Ten times Genesis draws attention to “the generations” or “the genealogy” or “the story” of a particular person (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2).  The first two of these times the exact phrase biblos geneseos is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint or LXX).  By using this phrase Matthew connects Jesus’ story to the Story of creation (2:4), the Story of all Mankind (5:1), and the Story of Israel in particular (11:27 etc.).  Matthew intends for us to understand the Jesus is the one who carries this Story forward.

John is even less opaque.  His gospel begins exactly like the book of Genesis begins, “In the beginning” (John 1:1; Gen. 1:1).  Just like there were seven days of creation, John shapes his gospel around the number seven in many ways but specifically by recording seven signs of Jesus culminating in his resurrection.  He even enumerates the first two signs just as God enumerated the days of creation.  “The first of his signs … the second sign …” (John 2:11; 4:54).

Jesus’ story is the Story of Man carried forward.  A designation frequently used to refer to Jesus is “the Son of Man” which, as already noted, means “the Human Being.”  But his story is also the Story of Israel carried forward.  In a myriad of ways he relives Israel’s history.  Just as Israel was called out of Egypt as God’s firstborn son (cf. Ex. 4:22), so Jesus was called out of Egypt as God’s son.  Matthew even uses a quotation from Hosea which refers to Israel herself and applies it to Jesus.  “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son'” (Mat. 3:15; cf. Hos. 11:1).  Jesus forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil (Mat. 4:1ff) mirror Israel’s forty years wandering in the wilderness.  And even Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan corresponds to Israel’s crossing of the Jordan which was itself recalling Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea in their exodus from Egypt (cf. Josh. 4:23).  After Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation he enters the synagogue in Nazareth and reads a section from Isaiah (61:1, 2) describing the mission of God’s “servant” (a name for Israel–Isa. 42:1; 43:10) and declares the scripture fulfilled in him (Luke 4:21).  Jesus is an Israelite who now embodies/represents Israel.  He is the True Israelite.  And he proves himself to be such by fulfilling Israel’s mission as described in the prophets.  He does in fact go about releasing the “captives”, curing the blind, and bring good news to the poor.

On one occasion Jesus saw a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years.  After healing her he describes the healing as an instance in which he has set the captive free.  He asks the indignant leaders, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16).

On another occasion Jesus meets a man with a withered hand.  Jesus “restores” it to health.  The word translated “restored” (apekatestathe)is significant.  A form of the same word is put into the mouth of Peter as he looks forward to the fate of all the world.  God is working towards a “universal restoration (apokatastaseos)” (Acts 3:21).  What God intends to do for the whole world he does in miniature through Jesus Christ for this man with a withered hand.  The curse which has tainted all of creation since Genesis 3 is responsible for the state of the man’s hand and Jesus, by reversing the curse, brings God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, he heals creation and “restores” the man.  Just as God intended to fix what went wrong through Israel so he does through Jesus the True Israelite.

But these local victories only point forward to that grander cosmic victory.  The preaching and healing that accompanied Christ where ever he went were ways of “binding the strong man” so that Jesus could eventually “plunder his property” (Mark 3:27).  The details of how Jesus’ death turned out to be a victory is not explained, the Bible only says that it was.

As Jesus went to his death he faced, not just the Jewish guards, nor the Roman empire, but the “power of darkness” itself (Luke 22:53).  In his death, when he was “lifted up,” the “ruler of this world” was “driven out” and “condemned” (John 12:31, 32; 16:11).  By the voluntary sacrifice of his life (John 10:17, 18) Jesus exhausted the power of the twin terrors of sin and death (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14).  Death, now without power (Acts 2:24), could not hold him and he resurrected on the third day in a body untouched by the curse, which would never see corruption (Acts 2:31, 32).  The work which God began, in some sense, was now “finished” (John 19:30).  The curse is lifted and the spell broken.  Jesus’ body is the first bit of New Creation, an incorruptible creation.  And the promise is that all of those who are joined to Jesus by faith and baptism will share in a resurrection like his (1 Cor. 15:20-23; 1 John 3:2).

But if Jesus has broken the back of sin and death, why do people still die?  And why is it that even those who belong to Jesus still sin?  And what are we supposed to do about it, if anything?  That will be the topic and concern of the fifth and final article in this series.

CONCLUSION:
1. Jesus is the climax of the long Story of the Bible.  God made the world to be ruled by Man and never rescinded that commitment.  When Man fell and brought the curse upon creation he moved to save Man by Man, specifically through Israel.
2. Israel, the rescuer of the world, found that she too shared in the curse.  He continually broken the partnership she had with God and brought curses upon herself.  The rescuer needed rescue.
3. Jesus, both the True Israelite and the True Human Being, came to restore Israel and to break the twin terrors of sin and death.  He began the work in his life and won the final victory in his death.  By submitting to death he exhausted the power of death and brought new life, indeed New Creation into the world.
4. This means that the New Age, the age which is no longer run by sin, death, corruption, oppression, war, and injustice but rather by righteousness, life, freedom, peace and justice, has begun with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If that New Age has begun then we ought to live as if we are there instead of here.  We must live as people of life, peace, freedom, and justice.  Now.  This is what it means to be fully human.

©M. Benfield 2016

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 3)

In part 1 we discussed what God is doing in the world and in part 2 we discussed how God is doing it.  Here, in part 3, we are going to discuss what we have only hinted at in the previous articles: how is God going to fix the project now that it’s gone wrong.  But first, why did it go wrong?

In part 1 we made a point to illustrate that this is ultimately God’s Story (it all begins with him in Genesis 1).  This means that though Man is ruling (as discussed in part 2), he is supposed to be doing so under God (as we see him doing in Genesis 2).  Man’s vocation is not to do what ever he sees fit but to reflect the image of God into the world, to do God’s works after him.  But another part of the image of God is having free will.  This freedom of choice is symbolized by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Though it appears in Genesis 2 it is central in Genesis 3 where it becomes the site of what is commonly known as The Fall.

Up until this point everything “good” has been pronounced so by God himself.  He is the one with the knowledge of good and evil and he is the one that has been defining what is good.  The question the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil present to Man is, “Will you continue to depend upon God for your knowledge of what is good and what is evil?  Will you continue to trust his definition of goodness?  Will you reflect his image into the world?  Or, will you take it upon yourselves to define good and evil?  Will you make your own boundaries?  Will you reflect something else into the world?”  They were supposed to rule under God, to depend upon him for knowledge of good and evil.  That’s why they were forbidden to eat of the tree.  “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die'” (Gen. 2:16, 27).

And things go well.  For a while.  Then something else enters the scene.  We don’t know where the talking snake came from or why it’s there but we are told immediately that he is very “crafty” (3:1).  He speaks to the woman and begins to throw doubt on the character of God.  Although he has defined good and evil so far the serpent questions whether God is, himself, “good.”  “Maybe he’s holding something back from you,” the serpent suggests.  “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'” (3:4, 5). The ironic thing is that they were already like God.  They bore his image.1  Also, they didn’t need the to eat of the Tree of Knowledge to know about good and evil, they had God for that.  They could depend upon him.  Regardless, the deception works.  The serpent, the archetype of rebellion, convinces the man and woman to join in his rebellion against God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (3:6, 7).  From that moment on they have the sentence of death in them.  They are separated from the tree of life (3:22) and chapter 5 contains the chorus “and he died.”  Not only do the humans begin to die but something strange also happens to creation itself.  Whereas before it has only been blessed now it is cursed.  “Cursed is the ground because of you .. thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (3:17, 18).

Even though Man now has the stain of rebellion in him God doesn’t just take back the reigns.  God intended Man to run the world (under him, of course) and he expects them to continue to do so.  When God sent Man out of the garden he had the same responsibility as when he was in it: to till the ground (3:23).  But we’ve seen how this goes.  As Man tries to fulfill his vocation, to reflect the image of God into the world, he does so imperfectly.  Though he makes art and cities and music and technology and culture, very often his efforts become further forms of oppression and rebellion (see part 2).  Reflecting on this very idea, C.S. Lewis’ description of history is accurate:

“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’–could set up on their own as if they had created themselves–be their own masters–invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy … That is the key to history.  Terrific energy is expended–civilisations are built up–excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong.  Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.  In fact, the machine conks.  It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice.  That is what Satan has done to us humans”1

But God is committed to the project.  Creation will be run by Man (cf. Ps. 115:116).  So, even as God moves to rescue creation (Man included), he promises to do so through Man.  Immediately after the deception of the serprent there is a promise that the serpent and all who take part in his rebellion will be defeated by Man, here called “the seed of woman.”  “The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (3:14, 15).  Though the serpent brought about the curse of Man the serpent would eventually be beaten by Man.

As the Story continues we are regularly reminded that God intends to run through world through Man.  Noah receives the same sorts of commands that Adam did.

“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered … And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it'” (9:1, 2, 7).

When rebellion once again comes to a head in the Tower of Babel, he scatters the people and then calls on one man, Abraham, to fix it all.  Why?  Because God will work for creation by creation, i.e. by man.  Listen again to the echoes of the Adamic commands (only now often the commands are promises): “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nationand I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:1-3).  Notice: 1. Adam was commanded to mulitiply, God promised that he would multiply Abraham.  2. God blessed Adam, God promised Abraham his blessing.  3. Adam was commanded to “bless” the world by helping it flourish, Abraham was promised “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In a way Abraham has become a New Adam.  The project of bringing blessing and flourishing to creation will continue through Abraham and his family.  As Abraham becomes a family and as his family becomes a nation the project of bringing blessing/flourishing to creation is not lost.  The nation of Israel is given laws in which God again defines good and evil.  As Israel obeys the laws they become an example to the nations of what true humanity is supposed to look like.  The nations look on in wonder.

“You must obey them [the laws] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’  For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?  And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as the entire law that I am setting before you today?” (Deu. 4:6-8).

The law of Israel included moral commandments which direct their relationship with God and with other people, as we would expect (Ex. 20; Deu. 5).  But it also includes laws which direct their relationship with creation as well.  They were supposed to let the land rest (Lev. 25:1-7).  The Sabbath day was to give rest to animals as well as people (Deu. 5:14).  They were expected to care for their domesticated animals (Pro. 12:10), but were also to be careful not to kill other animals to extinction (Deu. 22:6, 7).  There were even limitations on which trees they could cut down (Deu. 20:19, 20).  In fact, Israel’s eventual disregard for the land is one of the reasons why they were sent into exile (2 Ch. 36:20, 21).  God’s intention for Man was to bring blessing/flourishing to the world, and Israel is supposed to be representative Man to the world.  The same purpose God had for Man in the garden is the same purpose that Israel carries forward.

But what happens when the instrument of blessing also falls prey to the curse?  Although Israel had a mission to be a “light to the nations” (cf. Isa. 42:6; Mat. 5:16), they failed in their sacred charge.  God, however, is committed to the project.  He has a purpose for all the world and he has made a covenant with Israel to fulfill that purpose through them.  God has bound himself.  He cannot fulfill his purpose apart from Israel.

God will have to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but, paradoxically, he has also bound himself to do it through Man, and not just Man, through the representative nation of Israel.  This is what necessitates the restoration of Israel from under the curse to God’s blessing. This is what necessitates the incarnation.

God raises up one man who calls himself the Son of Man (cf. Mark 9:9, 12, 31), which is a Hebraic idiom meaning The Human Being (Pss. 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3).  This man, Jesus, is therefore called “the image of God”, the very thing that Man was intended to be (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3).  This makes him representative of all human kind.

But also, God calls him “Israel”, making him representative of the nation, carrying its destiny on his back, while also being charged with the restoration of Israel herself (cf. Isa. 49:1-6).  The gospels are very clear that we are to understand Jesus as this Servant (Luke 4:16-21; cf. Isa. 61:1, 2; 11:1-9).

So, we return to the question with which we opened: how is God going to get the project back on track now that it’s gone wrong?  And we have found our simple answer: Jesus.  But exactly how Jesus puts things right deserves more attention.  This discussion will occupy the next article in this series.

CONCLUSION
Let’s sum up what we have learned so far:
1. God intends the world to flourish.  When it falls under the curse, he does not give up on creation, but moves to redeem it.
2. God intends the world to flourish under man’s guardianship.  He never gives up on this project.  When creation goes wrong (Man included), he moves to fix creation through creation, i.e. through Abraham and his family.
3.  When Abraham’s family (Israel), the solution to the world’s problem, also becomes part of the problem, God must rescue Israel from within Israel for the sake of the world.  He does this through Jesus Christ.  See part 4 of the article to learn more about how Jesus accomplishes this and what it means for us.

©M. Benfield 2016


1. For further explanation of this event see The Bible Project’s videos which cover the text, Genesis 1-11 and Read Scripture: Genesis 1-11.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 49-50.

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 2)

 

In Part 1 of this article we focused on the what.  We got the big picture of what God is doing in and for his good (but now fallen) world.  He is redeeming creation “far as the curse is found.”  This article will focus on the how God goes about doing that. Here the idea of the image of God becomes most important.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image (Heb. tselem), according to our likeness'” (Genesis 1:26).

The word here translated “image” is used elsewhere to refer to images/statues of false gods (tselem: 2 Ki. 11:18; Eze. 7:20; Amos 5:26).  It would not, then, be entirely inappropriate to say that we are God’s “idols.”  Therefore, we are representations of God to the world. This means that being human is quintessentially divine imitation.  What God is we are supposed to be to the world.  Interestingly enough, that is exactly what we find.

There is much to be said about Genesis 1 and 2 but we will only notice two things for our present purpose: 1. When creation began it was disordered.  It was “a formless void” (1:2).  Much of what takes place in Genesis 1 is not just creation but the ordering of creation and a great part of ordering is naming/labeling.  We want to know what stuff is, and God tells us.  “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night … God called the dome Sky … God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas” (1:5, 8, 10).  2.  Not only was creation “formless” (i.e. without order) it was also “void” (i.e. empty).  God orders/names as well as fills creation.  To the assumed empty Sky God says, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night” (1:14).  To the empty waters God says, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures … God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas'” (1:20-22).  To the empty land he says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind” (1:24).  Naming and filling, these are main features of God’s work in Genesis 1.

Up until now, God has been running the show.  He is the one who has dominion of the fish, birds, cattle, animals, and all the earth.  But, in some sense, God hands over creation to Man.  “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings” (Ps. 115:116).  Man now represents God to the world.  That is what it means to be made “in his image.”  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26, 27).

If we are God’s images, and if God’s work in Genesis 1 involved naming and filling creation, then we ought to expect that to be a part of Man’s work.  That is the very thing we find.  Immediately after Man’s creation in God’s image he is given the charge to fill the earth.  “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28).  As we moved to chapter 2 we find the animals without names.  God is in the naming business and certainly could have done it himself, but he chose to do it another way.  “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (2:19, 20).  Just as God did the work of naming so Man follows in his footsteps.  Man is doing God’s works after him.  That is what it means to reflect the image of God into the world.

Man’s dominion (under God) is one of benevolence.  Just like God brought about the flourishing of his good world (see part 1) so Man is to have dominion over the world in a way that brings about its flourishing, much like a shepherd rules his sheep for their good.  Or better yet, like a gardener exercises dominion over his garden for the good of the garden.  Adam was placed in the garden “to till (Heb. abad) it and keep (Heb. shamar) it” (2:15).  A more literal translation would read “to serve it and to guard it”, or, as Jonathan Sacks put it, “to serve and conserve it.”1  Though we are masters of creation we are also servants of it (already pointing forward to Jesus’ words which seem so upside down to us–Mark 10:42-45).

All of this is a way of saying that God now shares his responsibility.  What God wants to do in the world we noticed in part 1, now we see how he wants to do it: through Man.

As we follow the Story Man brings about the flourishing of creation over and over again.  He takes the raw materials of creation, like a gardener, trains it up to help it become the best that it can be.  In the first chapters of Genesis we have cities being built (4:17), instruments invented and music made (4:21), new tools/technology created (4:22), and poems being written (4:23).  Man is continues the work that God began, he brings about the flourishing of creation.  But there is a dark side to this all.

Just like we can use the awesome power that God has given us to bring about the flourishing of creation, we can also use that power to oppress creation, to curse it, and twist it in ugly ways.  Cain kills his brother (4:8-16).  The first poem ever written glorified violence (4:23).  New technologies are used to build cities in defiance of heaven (11:3, 4).

 

CONCLUSION
The point to take away is this: being human means reflecting God’s image into the world.  And that is just a way of saying that we do God’s works after him.  He wants his creation to flourish and he has chosen us to help get it there.  But what happens when God’s means for blessing creation (humankind), instead bring a curse?  What happens when they are infected by the curse as well?  When that happens, then Man himself needs saving.  That leads us to part 3.

©M. Benfield 2016


1. “Environmental Responsibility”, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.