This is a bit longer post than usual. But then I never posted a chapter from a book before. I am 75% done with the Provocative God book and it seemed like a good time to give a sneak peek. At least that’s what my marketing guru says. So here you go. I look forward to your feedback and since this has not gone through a final edit, any errors and omissions you find, please let me know.
With you in His great adventure,
Section 1 Your Relationship With God
Chapter 1 Made in God’s Image, for His Glory
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; Acts 17:24,25
Why was the human race created? Or at least why wasn’t something creditable created in place of it? God had His opportunity. He could have made a reputation. But no, He must commit this grotesque folly — a lark which must have cost Him a regret or two when He came to think it over and observe effects. Mark Twain
God doesn’t need us. God could have continued on throughout all eternity and never missed us in the least. He could have existed quite nicely without us. He could have created everything involved in the first six days of creation all the way up to the most amazing of animals and left us out and the world and God, Father, Son, and Spirit, would have gone on rather nicely, without us. Some, Mark Twain among, them have wondered given our predilection to sin if maybe God and creation wouldn’t have been better off without us human beings. Be that as it may, there is certainly a sense from Scripture that we humans are not essential to God in the least.
That may come as a shock to you, especially in light of a culture that seeks at every turn to affirm how special you are, how unique and valuable to the world you are and even that God might not be able to get on very well without you. Even within the Evangelical world it is not unusual to hear a sermon telling you that you are so special to God that if you were the only person on Earth, Jesus would still have gone to the Cross for you. I have no intent to try to downplay the love that God has for His creation or the willingness on the part of the Father and the Son to endure the Cross for you and me. If for no other reason than the Cross of Calvary is about as provocative as God gets. We will absolutely deal with that in a later chapter. But in the midst of what in the church and culture has become something of a self-love fest; we need to ask ourselves a very important question. Simply put, if God is indeed as self-sufficient, as Peter affirms in Acts 17:24, 25, then why did He create human beings in the first place?
Classic theology speaks of God’s attributes. What we mean by the term “attributes” is the various powers, personality traits, and qualities that make God the Being that He is. Most people have some understanding of the classic attributes of God being omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, meaning God is all-powerful, always present, and all-knowing. Yet there is so much more to God. He is love. (1 John 4:16) He is three times holy. (Isaiah 6:3) He is a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5) God is righteous and just. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The list goes on and on.
Of all the attributes, one that gets little or no attention is the one that concerns us now. It’s the independence of God. God is totally self-sufficient. He is lacking nothing, needs nothing, not from us or from anything. Think of it this way, if God needed something outside himself in order to be God, then He would be subject to that thing. It would have some control over God and would supplant God in some way. If God needed something or someone else to cause Him to exist, then that would be God. God is self-existent. He needs nothing else in order to be. Theologians call this attribute, “aseity”. It is such a rare word that spell check hasn’t even heard of it. It comes from two Latin words that mean “from self”. God exists and has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit, a perfect relationship of harmony, love, and unity.
Yet for some reason God made a decision that changed everything. God chose to create, to make the heavens and earth and all that is in them. He decided to make you and me and every other human being who ever walked the earth. Given the way we have royally botched up creation I have to wonder if Mark Twain wasn’t on to something when he wondered if God didn’t have some regret over creating humanity. Certainly the Bible is filled with examples of how we have rebelled against God, shaken our collective fist at Him, run off after false gods committing what amounts to spiritual adultery, chasing our spiritual lovers, seeking a cheap spiritual thrill in place of the God of creation who holds the universe in the span of His hand. If the history that is spelled out in the Bible isn’t enough, we need only look to the past century and the rampant genocide, brutality, death and carnage that we humans have rained down upon ourselves.
All of that death and carnage can be directly traced to sin and that takes us back to Genesis 3 and the story of Adam and Eve, a Garden, and a Serpent. Without going into all the possible theological debates on this passage, there is one thing that is abundantly clear. God had placed Adam and Eve in a creation that was free from pain and suffering, free from broken relationships, free from sin, guilt, and shame. But the decision of our ancestors to reach for and grasp at equality with God brought a curse on the land and put separation from God at the core of being human. It also meant that death now became the enemy we could never defeat.
But it wasn’t always like that. When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, when he created them and ultimately us, it was with a far different outcome in mind. God created the galaxies, stars in their courses, the heavens and mountains, the birds, fish, and all the myriads of other creatures for His own glory and pleasure. Then He topped it off with humanity made in His image, the crowning jewel that was to bring even greater glory to Him.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem on what has become known as Palm Sunday, the crowds cheered, danced and sang his praise. The uptight religious leaders were offended by such an outpouring of praise being heaped upon Jesus. They told him to make the people stop glorifying him. His response was stunning. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” Luke 19:40
Jesus was saying that creation itself was bursting at the opportunity to give praise to God who had some in the flesh. If humanity, ultimately created for that purpose, was not going to do so, then the rocks and trees would surely burst into praise.
There are numerous places in the Bible that point to the role creation has in glorifying God.
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” Psalm 19:1
“The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people have seen His glory” Psalm 97:5-6
“And one cried out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3
Humanity: The Crowning Jewel of Creation
For all our progress as human beings, all the advancements in technology, medicine, and social science, we seem to have lost ground in a most important area. We have lost our sense of dignity. In fact we seem to be embarrassed by it. Speak of humanity as the crowning jewel of creation and you will very quickly be met with accusations of arrogance and hubris. Maybe you have heard these kinds of statements as I have. “How can you possibly think that we are the crowning jewel of creation when we are simply the next rung on the evolutionary ladder?” “Given the odds there are certainly more advanced beings than us living on distant planets. How could we possibly think we are so special?” How indeed?
The answer comes from God. When God decided to make the final piece of creation He made it clear that this would be the ultimate piece, the one that did something no other part of creation could do. Humanity would represent God in the world. It would be made in His very image.
Over the centuries there have been all sorts of ideas about what it means to be made in God’s image. Some have focused on how God is a relational being and therefore so are we. Others have emphasized the moral nature or rational aspects of God and looked for those things in us. Then there is always the caveat that the fall and human sin have damaged that image. All of these things need to be part of the discussion. But they are hardly provocative. In order to really see how radical God was in the creation of human beings in His image we need to grasp the context of Genesis 1.
I regularly teach a class at Northland on Sunday mornings. You don’t need to be a student in that class for very long before you will hear how important context is. Anytime you deal with a passage from the Bible you must never take it in isolation. It sits in the middle of other passages that have a huge impact of the meaning and application of the text. Those verses sit within a paragraph, within a chapter, book, testament and the whole of the Bible. On top of all that is the historical context of the first author and readers. We need to understand what the author meant and what first hearers/readers understood the passage to mean.
When Genesis 1:26, 27 says that we are made in the image and likeness of God, we need to ask, what did that mean to the people who first read those words? It helps to consider other places where they heard about images and likenesses. For that we need look no further than the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or the earth beneath..” Exodus 20:3,4
The people who first heard about being made in God’s image/likeness were also the people who first heard that they were not to ever make an image or likeness of anything that could take the place of God in their lives. They were to have no image/likeness that they would worship as a false God. Surely the similarity in the language of Genesis 1:26,27 and Exodus 20:3,4 would not have been lost on them. Something similar was being said about them being the image/likeness of God and the forbidden image/likeness of false gods.
In our supposed 21st century sophistication we dismiss any notion of physical idols or images as having any real significance. We see them only as a tangible focal point of something purely spiritual. The Native American totem pole is just wood. The Greek statue of Aphrodite is just stone. In our minds there is no reality to what they represent. But to the people of the Bible and the cultures in biblical lands, the image, statue, carving, were far more than that. They in some way, albeit a subsidiary way, were the things they represented. When people would bow down to an image of Baal, they were in fact bowing down to Baal who was by proxy, present in the statue. The image in some way acted in the place of the original. To worship the image was to worship the original. To reject the image was to reject the original.
In 1 Samuel 5 the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant. They haul it off to Ashdod and place it in the temple of their god, Dagon. In the morning they enter the temple and the statue of Dagon has fallen and is literally on its face before the Ark. But when we read this chapter we need to take careful notice of the fact that it doesn’t say “the statue of Dagon fell down before the Ark”. It says, “behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the Ark of the Lord”. (1 Samuel 5:4) This didn’t happen just one morning but two mornings in a row. The second time we are told the head and hands of Dagon were cut off and tossed aside with only the torso of Dagon left where he had fallen. The image of Dagon in some way stood in proxy for Dagon himself. When the image fell down before the Ark, it meant Dagon had fallen in submission before the Ark of the Lord. When the hands and head of the statue were cut off and tossed aside it meant that in some way the hands and head of Dagon were cut off and tossed aside. As a result the Philistines acknowledged that the God of Israel was more powerful than Dagon and they quickly sent the Ark away.
When God said that He was going to make us in His image, it meant that we were created in order to stand in for God in some way. We were made to represent God in creation. Just as the Philistines saw the statue/image of Dagon as acting on behalf of, in proxy for Dagon, so the Israelites would have understood that humanity as a whole was created in the image/likeness of God to act on behalf of, in proxy for God in creation.
So what is our role? In what way are we to stand in for God as His image bearers? We get the first indication of an answer in the second half of verse 26, “and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth”. We were made in God’s image in order to be God’s representatives in ruling over and being stewards of creation.
So what are the implications of us bearing the image/likeness of God and being given the responsibility to rule over creation? Keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to glorify God, there are at least three serious implications for how we live. The first has gained more notice in recent years after centuries of neglect. We must be careful stewards of creation and care for it in a way that honors God. Second, how we live in relation to God should be something that honors Him. Our lives should be lived in such a way as to worship God in all we do. We are made for His glory and so we should live like it. Thirdly, and the one I wish to expand upon, is that as image/likeness bearers we are the most tangible expression of God that most people will ever see.
In the 1970’s there was a television commercial in America that showed a boy of 5 or 6 years in a crowded airport. He was carrying a box with a puzzle inside. In the hustle and bustle of the airport someone knocks into the little boy and he drops the box, spilling puzzle pieces all over the floor. Busy travelers don’t even notice as the child is on the floor desperately trying to gather all the pieces into the box. Suddenly a shadow looms over him as a more than middle-aged businessman stoops down and helps the boy gather all the pieces into the box. At the end the boy looks up at the man and asks, “Are you God?” That is what it means to be an image/likeness bearer.
People should be able to look at Christians and see God. If that makes you a bit uncomfortable, wondering if I am not going off some New Age deep end where we all become one with god and become god, I understand. But let’s consider this from a strictly New Testament perspective. In 1 Corinthians 12 we get the image of us as the Body and Christ as the Head of the church. Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 9 that we are ambassadors of Christ, representing him to the world. We are told that we are to grow into maturity in all things becoming like Christ. (Ephesians 4:15) In John 17 Jesus prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one. He prays that we would one and he as he prays to the Father he makes this startling statement:
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Jesus prayed that His followers, even those who were not yet born, would be one just as he and the Father are one. He also prayed that we would be “in” them, that is, so united to the Father and the Son that when people see us, they would see them. Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world so people would see the Father, Jesus sends us into the world so people would see them both. That is redemption at its finest. It is redeeming the original mission God gave us when He created us in His image.
Being an image/likeness bearer of God is a heavy responsibility. It seems crazy on God’s part to entrust to us, the representation of Him to the world. It seems ridiculous for Him to entrust to us the power and authority to be his stewards over all creation acting in His name and on His behalf. It seems comical that God would entrust to us, the responsibility of building a society and culture that glorifies Him above all else. But that is exactly what He has done.
We don’t need to be embarrassed by that or apologize for what God has determined to do. But we do need to get on with the mission of representing Him differently. We need to represent Him so that He is indeed glorified in us and we are enjoying Him forever.