God Imparted Gifts to Humanity for Good Reason

September 14, 2012

26Then 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.”

27            So God created humankind in his image,
                      in the image of God he created them;
                        male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

 As I teach the first three chapters of Genesis, new insights are hitting me, for which I am grateful. This week, my class contrasted the two accounts of Creation in chapter 1:1—2:3 and in chapter 2:4—25. We observed that the first account seems to highlight the creation of time (evening and the morning, the first day…), while the second narrative highlights (among other things) space, giving special attention to the Garden and its location. Before God got to work, there was neither time nor space, only God. [I will have to ponder Revelation’s description of the New Heavens and New Earth, which obviously describes place as ongoing, but time as eternity—which is no time? or infinite time? or perhaps the fullness of time!] The first chapter stresses the orderliness of God’s creativity, wrangling chaos into meaningful and purposeful elements. The second account is remarkable for locating itself in down-to-earth terms, pointing our thoughts ultimately toward the concreteness of Jesus’ appearance, the wonder of the Incarnation, and the intimacy of God’s relationship with the people he created in that space and time.

But both accounts have at least three elements in common with each other: they each announce a likeness that empowers human beings for meaningful existence, they each identify human sexual distinctions to be foundational, and they each differentiate humans from the rest of the creaturely world. The first two of these three common features are explained today:

In chapter 1, verses 26-7, the imago Dei (the image of God) is proclaimed. God fashioned humankind (as an entire race) in his image and likeness. [Parenthetically, I don’t see image and likeness as two different things, but as a parallelism in the text.] In ways that we cannot fully comprehend or explain, humanity corresponds to and resembles God’s image. The tendency to limit this image to humanity’s spiritual (and perhaps mental) nature would, I think, be in error. Humans are physical, emotional, social, and spiritual beings who by their very complexity and integration somehow reflect the present, powerful, relational, and transcendent nature of God. Let us not get too technical here in describing the resemblance, only because we are tempted to think about it backwards by asking, “What are humans like?” and conclude that God must be like that, too. The truth is, God always was before we were, and we “take after him.” Whatever that means. It is the first gift we humans receive, to bear resemblance and to give witness to God as our Creator and Lord. Then look how closely the imago Dei is linked to opus et custodia hominum (humanity’s charge) in verse 26. The gift of God-likeness is given in order that we humans could accomplish the assignment God also gave us: to have dominion over the fauna of God’s creation. We steward the earth as God’s representatives, as his local agents created in his image and likeness. Blessed to be a blessing translates in this case to “possessing God’s image to bless the earth with godly stewardship.”

The second gift to humankind is sexual distinctions: “Male and female he created them.” Humanity as a whole comprises male and female, and the goodness of that gift is something we will appreciate all the more in Chapter 2. Here, the matter-of-fact declaration of “man as male and female,” as we used to say in the 1970s, simply identifies the sexes as an essential differentiation within a fundamental unity. Humankind (as male and female) is given responsibility, yes, for dominion (as in verse 26); but note in verse 28, after the introduction of male and female in 27, that they are also charged with being fruitful and multiplying. So, parallel with the gift of imago Dei in order to exercise dominion, the gift of sexuality and male/female distinctions is in order to conceive and give birth to children. Make no mistake; a child still comes into the world only by the participation of a man and a woman.

In summary, what we learn about marriage in Genesis 1 is that God created human beings with sexual distinctives of maleness and femaleness. God gave humanity his likeness and appointed human beings as his representatives to manage his creation. There is no distinction of roles here, providing a strong basis for the understanding of the dignity of women and girls as well as men and boys. That is to say, boys are not better. And we have learned that the gift of sexuality comes with the charge to produce children. And why is that important? Because having kids is not primarily to satisfy the happiness of a mom and dad, nor to fulfill them as people, nor to cement their marriage, but to provide the next generation of stewards of God’s earth. To be honest, I never thought of this when my husband and I were contemplating parenthood 35 years ago . . . but it is a very good reason to have children: to raise up those who will make a meaningful and godly contribution to society and the management of God’s resources after we’re gone.

In my next post, we will take up the third common element as we dig into Genesis, chapter 2.



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