This week we take a deeper look at the creation story and zoom in on the creation of human beings.
Perhaps the first thing to notice about the creation of human beings in Genesis 1 is that when they are made, creation is described as “very good.” Gen 1:31). Everything else God makes in Genesis is merely “good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), but the additions of human beings to creation makes it “very good”. The Hebrew word for “good” is tov (pronounced toe-v). To emphasis something in the Hebrew language you repeat it: so light, land, water, birds, fish, plants, animals are all tov… but human beings are tov-tov. God speaks baby talk!
So human beings are understood to be good creations, something God makes with care and pride. The psalmist says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-16).
One of the most profound phrases in all the Bible is found in Genesis 1:26-27, “God created humankind in his image.” From this idea comes all kinds of implications about who we are, who God is, and who our neighbors are to us. What does it mean to be made, “in the image and likeness of God”?
The greek word for “image” is eikon (icon). So human beings are “icons” of God. An icon is a representation of something. It is a picture meant to communicate something essential. An icon is an image that mirrors the subject it represents. For instance, the homescreen on a smart phone is full of icons. Those images and symbols are meant to represent and communicate what is behind them. Companies use this in their logos all the time.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, icons are used extensively in their worship and devotion of God. Eastern Orthodox icons are simple paintings meant to reflect and represent aspects of God’s character and story to us. There are a few orthodox icons here in our church. AAnother example of icons could be found in our stained glass windows. They aren’t just there to look pretty, but each symbol tells a story about God.
So with this in mind, when scripture says human beings are eikons of God, it means that we are a reflection of God’s character. We share a “likeness” and similarities to the attributes of God in ways that other creatures don’t. So how do human beings represent God? How are we made to reflect who God is?
- Just as God creates, so human beings have the ability to create (procreation, art, designing, constructing, etc)
- Unlike other animals, we have the ability to imagine and speculate. We have a sense of transcendence, we can think beyond ourselves and our present surroundings.
- We have the capacity for moral decisions. Human beings are free to choose good or evil. We have a conscience.
- We are relational. We want community, friendship, and family just as God is relational (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
Yet how is God different than human beings? The most obvious: we have bodies. Genesis chapter 2 tells us where human bodies came from: the dust, the earth. The name Adam literally means, “earth”. And again, scientifically this is entirely true! Of the basic elements, our bodies are almost 80% carbon. Carbon also happens to be the most abundant element in the universe’s stars and planets. You are made of stardust!
In the second chapter of Genesis we also learn that God creates human bodies as male and female, different types of bodies meant to compliment each other. We read in Genesis 2:18 that the male body needed a “suitable helper”. This translation is not the best rendering of the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word translated “suitable” is better understood as “alike, but different”. The male and female are alike in that they both share the image of God, they have an equality in worth and dignity, but their bodies are different most obviously in how they need each other to procreate. A human family is not simply a place for children to be raised, but it is a place for human beings to experience an intimacy with God as they “cling” to one another.
Note also that Genesis 1:27 says something about who God is based up on who we are. “Male and Female he created them.” Both the sexes bear the image of God, so though we speak of God as “Father” and mostly uses male pronouns for God, God’s character could not be exclusively male or exclusively female… God’s being is beyond gender! Unlike human beings, God does not have a body. God is Spirit (John 4:24). As such, God is neither male nor female.
Contrast the story of creation in Genesis with other creation myths from the Ancient Near East. For the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and others… it was not believed that all people are made in the image of God. Kings, royalty, and other elites in society might be understood to have imago dei, but common people were sometimes created by lesser gods (demigods) as slaves or servants. Often it was the death of a demigod that created a group of human beings. It was believed that different people groups came from different gods.
Genesis stands in stark contrast to these myths: the entire human race is made from the same stuff and all human beings share the “thumbprint” of one God, the God who made everything. Genesis teaches that the human race shares a common ancestor and a common bond in being made by the one true God.
It was not just ancient myth that perpetuated the idea that different races and ethnicities have different origins. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists and anthropologists believed in theories that different races evolved from different pre-human ancestors: Europeans from a european pre-human ancestor, Asians from another, and Africans from a third. It was this thinking that influenced much of the racist ideologies that believed in the superiority of one race over another (e.g. Hitler’s Nazism). More contemporary DNA and anthropological science now disagrees with the older view. It now appears that all human beings share in their DNA a gene that links them to a common ancestor, some call it “the Eve Gene”. It is no longer believed that different races evolved from different kinds of pre-humans, but rather we all share a genetic ancestor from ancient Africa, and that skin color and other physical features changed after human beings migrated to different parts of the world. This is the same idea communicated in Genesis: we all came from the same ancestors, we all share the image of God.
But this is what is so important about understanding the Bible’s idea of being made in God’s image. Consider the people who Jesus encountered and whom he reached out to: the poor, the sick, children, widows, the people despised by the world. He speaks with them, heals them, befriends them, eats with them and gives them dignity in his interaction with them because they are made in God’s image. God’s thumbprint is on every human creature. Everyone of us is meant to be his child. Everyone of us is meant to reflect his glory.
Of course, the problem is that something has gone wrong. The icons are cracked and muddy. The problem is sin. We’ll talk more about that in a few weeks…
Journaling Questions this Week:
Read Psalm 139:13-18
- In what ways has God made you “wonderful”?
- Who is it hard for you to see the image of God in?
- Why is human life precious?
Next week we cook dinner at Wonderful Wednesday. Meet in the kitchen at 5pm.