Reasonable Faith in the God of Creation
We’ve been going through Genesis, looking at the account as it is given to us. From the beginning, the Bible calls on us to trust the truthfulness of God. Trust in God that results in action, this is the essence of true faith.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
As we have seen before, Wayne Grudem defines faith as, “Trust or dependence on God based on the fact that we take Him at His word and believe what He has said.”
You trust who you know.
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.
– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I.
Where did we come from? What are we? It’s one of the oldest questions man has ever asked.
The Creation of Man as a Contrast to the Culture
In the Ancient Near East, texts typically speak of the origins of humanity in collective terms. What the smart folks call “Polygenesis.” The idea is that mankind was created by gods out of different stock by many different gods in many different locations. In these myths, there is no indication of an original pair of humans from which the whole earth is populated with humanity, or “Monogenesis”. The biblical creation account is quite distinct in that regard.In reading through some of the literature, I found it also interesting that in the Ancient Near East, the mythologies of the time explained the purpose for man’s creation as “to do the work of the gods – work that is essential for the continuing existence of the gods, and work that they have tired of doing for themselves.”
Let him bear the yoke, the work of Ellil, Let man bear the load of the gods.
I will bring together blood to form bone,
I will bring into being Lullû, whose name shall be ‘man’.
I will create Lullû—man
On whom the toil of the gods will be laid that they may rest.
In Mesopotamia, the cosmos functioned for the gods and in relation to them. They needed it to survive. Human beings are an afterthought, and seen as just another part of the cosmos that helps the gods function.
However, in Israel, the cosmos functions to sustain people and in relationship to them. God does not need the cosmos, but universe is His temple to display His glory and goodness to His creatures.
Humanity is given a priestly role in sacred space rather than the role of slaves to meet the needs of the gods. God planted a garden to provide food for people rather than people providing food for the gods.
There is a significant difference here. What is it that makes man worth anything? Is there a God? What is He like?
The Text says that God made a man in His “image.” The smart folks I read tell me that the Hebrew word selem, translated in the English bibles as image, originally meant “something cut from an object” – like a piece of clay cut from a sculpture. The idea behind the word is that there is a concrete resemblance between the object and the image. Selem also was used to denote a king’s statue erected to serve as a symbol of his sovereignty.
What significance is that language as it is applied to humans here? It would seem to indicate that humans are God’s representatives on earth and are to have a character and being that images that of God – His nature, His character?
Moses further tells us that God was intent on making man “after Our likeness.” This is a phrase that helps explain what it means to be “in the image of” God. The way that it is constructed is meant to be vague in order to allow “analogy to open up” and for the reader to think about not just one contact between the original and the created, but many contacts between the things that are compared.
Likeness is an assurance that man is an adequate and faithful representative of God on earth. The whole man is the image of God, without distinction of spirit and body. All mankind, without distinction, are the image of God.
– D. J. A. Clines, The Image of God in Man, p. 101.
If opening up the analogy is what is intended for us by the language, in what ways does our being reflect the image of God?
Theologians throughout the ages have wrestled with this question. Again, Wayne Grudem gives a thoughtful and thorough review of some ways in which we are the image of God.
- We morally accountable before God for our actions;
- We have an inner sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from animals;
- When we act according to God’s moral standards, our likeness to God is reflected in behavior that is holy and righteous before him. However, by contrast, our unlikeness to God is reflected whenever we sin.
- We are not only physical bodies but also immaterial spirits and can therefore act in ways that are significant in the immaterial, spiritual realm of existence;
- We have a spiritual life that enables us to relate to God as persons, to pray and praise Him, and to hear Him speaking His words to us;
- Though the physical body may die, we are immortal. We will not cease to exist, but will live forever.
- We have an ability to reason, think logically and learn that sets us apart from the animal world;
- We have the ability to use complex, abstract language. This sets us far apart from the animals;
- We have an awareness of the distant future, even an inward sense that we will live beyond the time of our physical death, a sense that gives many people a desire to attempt to be right with God before they die; Eccl. 3:11
- As humans, we have creativity in areas such as art, music, and literature, and in scientific and technological inventiveness;
- We have a large difference in degree and complexity of emotions.
- The depth of interpersonal harmony experienced in human marriage, in a human family when it functions according to God’s principles, and in a church when a community of believers is walking in fellowship with the Lord and with each other, is much greater than the interpersonal harmony experien ced by any animals;
- In marriage itself we reflect the nature of God in the fact that as men and women we have equality in importance but difference in roles from the time that God created us;
- Man is like God also in his relationship to the rest of creation. Specifically, man has been given the right to rule over the creation and when Christ returns will even be given authority to sit in judgment over angels (1 Cor. 6:3; Gen. 1:26, 28; Ps. 8:6–8)
- “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and it is sin to think of him or to portray him in any way that would imply that he has a material or a physical body (see Ex. 20:4; Ps. 115:3–8; Rom. 1:23).
- However, we are given eyes to see His creation and God is said to see. We are given ears to hear His words; God is said to hear our prayers.
The Image of God as a Signpost to the Creator
When you think about it, all of the characteristics we have discussed are demonstrated through the use of our bodies. What we prize inside is reflected outside in what we do and say.
Of course, it would be silly to say that only man reflects any likeness to God at all. Psalm 19:1 tells us that the heavens themselves declare His glory. All of creation, in one way or another, reflects some likeness to God.
However, out of all of creation, nothing but mankind is so like God that it can be said to be “in the image of God.” This confirmation of our being image bearers of God, together with the scriptural commands that we are to imitate God in our lives (Eph. 5:1 “Be imitators of God, as little children”; 1 Peter 1:16 “You shall be holy as I am holy”), added to the stuff we can see and recognize in looking at ourselves and the rest of creation, all indicate that we are much more like God than all the rest of creation. In some ways the differences between mankind and the rest of creation are absolute, and in other ways they are relative, but they are all significant.
Does it amaze you that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in His image,” something more like Himself than all the rest of creation, He made us? The starry hosts above, the abundance of the earth, the world of plants and animals, the angelic kingdoms – we are more like our Creator than any of these things. That is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. What are you doing with it?