The Image of God: A Reflection on Creation

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The Image of God: A Reflection on Creation

In the Beginning

 

Have you ever been in a room so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of you? The Bible describes: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” Darkness. Nothing to see by. And even if there was light, there is nothing to see. Until God speaks.

 

Everything changes when God speaks. His word brings forth light, separates the waters, makes dry land appear, urges redwoods to reach toward the sky and violets to cling to the forest floor. By His word, the sun, moon, and stars cast brilliant light on the earth.

 

He could have stopped there. The earth would have been a beautiful garden of trees and plants. But God is not finished.

 

And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures.’ (Genesis 1:20).

 

Living creatures. The Hebrew words are nefesh chaya. Nefesh is the same word for soul, living being, creature. It can mean “that which breathes.” Chaya means living. The waters teem with fish, tiny seahorses, giant whales, toothy sharks. Above the earth, He commands birds to fly: majestic eagles, fragile hummingbirds. After this creation, God pronounces a blessing.

 

And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ (Genesis 1:22)

 

Humans, you know, are not the only ones to receive God’s blessing.

 

The skies and trees are now full of life. The seas are full of life. But the land is still quiet. God speaks again, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Again, the phrase, nefesh chaya. Doe-eyed cows pull up fresh grass, wrinkly elephants spray water across their leathery skin, tawny lions shake golden manes. 

The Creation of Man

 

Still, God is not done.

 

Pay close attention to the text. Up until now, the story is told in a very formulaic fashion. “And God said, ‘Let there be…’ And it was so. And God saw that it was good.” Sometimes there is a reference to God making, or the author describes what God made. But overall, this is the formula. In 1:26, this changes. The verse begins with the same formula, “And God said, Let . . .” Let who? Let us. Who is the us? The word for God here is Elohim, it’s plural. This is the trinity. “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” This was not in the other creation formulas! This is something new. In God’s image? In God’s likeness? And lest you think this is man only, Adam is being used here as a word for humankind—God actually named both the man and woman Adam or “Man” in Genesis 5:1.

 

When my daughter, Adelia was born, everyone wanted to know who she looked like. When my husband, Kevin, first looked at her face, he said it was like staring into the miniature face of his father-in-law! Now that she is older, she looks like a mix of both of us. God created human beings to look like Him.

 

Verse 27 switches from prose into poetry. This event is too incredible to use regular phrasing, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” Do you hear the rhythm of it? The triple use of the word “created” and the double use of “image”? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow does something similar in his poem Hiawatha’s Childhood,

 

Bright before it beat the water/Beat the clear and sunny water/Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

 

Genesis 1 does not give us the details of mankind’s creation. This chapter is focused on summarizing the events. But Genesis 2 slows down and zooms in on the creation of man and woman. Genesis 2:7 says,

 

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

 

James Weldon Johnson, in his poem, “The Creation,” imagines this scene:

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled him down;

And there the great God Almighty

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;

This great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

Amen. Amen.

Genesis 2:8 states that God planted a garden in Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed. Everything in this section of Genesis 2 is phrased to place the emphasis on Adam—as if God made everything expressly for the purpose of bringing joy, delight, and satisfaction to man: the garden was for him to live in, the fruit was for him to eat, the animals were his to name.

 

Evidently, creation is the stuff of poetry because the Psalms are filled with creation imagery. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 8:

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;

you have put all things under his feet,

all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

A Helper for Adam

 

But someone is missing. Genesis 2:18 begins with a remarkable phrase: “It is NOT GOOD that the man should be alone.” What has God said after everything He created in chapter 1? And God saw that it was good. But now, there is something NOT good! Adam is lonely. Well, Adam is in the right place. God is in the mood for making things! “I will make him a helper fit for him,” God says. Verse 21,

 

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

 

There are two keywords here: helper and rib. God did not make a servant for Adam. God did not make a boss for Adam. He made a helper. An ezer in Hebrew: this is a word often used for God and how He relates to humans as a helper, an ezer. Psalm 70:5 says,

 

But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help (ezer) and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!

 

God did not make Eve from Adam’s foot, representing her being lower or less than him. Nor did He make her from Adam’s skull, representing her being higher or greater than him. He made her from Adam’s rib. His side. Eve is meant to be a helper alongside Adam. As Ellen White says in Patriarchs and Prophets,

 

Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him. A part of man, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, she was his second self, showing the close union and the affectionate attachment that should exist in this relation.[1]

 

Again, this event is too fabulous to be put in prose. Genesis 2:23 reads:

 

This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.

 

And what does verse 24 say about the man and woman? They shall become one flesh. Why is that so important? Look again at Genesis 1:27. God created man in the image of God, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” Man and woman together form the image of God.

 

It is interesting that God breaks into poetry when He creates mankind, almost as though this is the missing piece in the puzzle of creation. And Adam breaks into poetry when God creates Eve: she is the missing piece of his happiness. Eden is not paradise until both man and woman are created and the image of God is complete. 

The Image of God

 

What is the image of God? God is not gendered, so if we were made to look like Him, what does that mean? There are many ways we could look at it—God is compassionate, maternal, paternal, gracious, slow to anger, creative, etc. But at the most fundamental level, what is God’s character? 1 John 4:16, “God is Love.” Earlier, in verse 7, John says,

 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

 

To be made in God’s image is to love.

 

The tragedy of the fall is that the image of God was marred. We no longer resemble our Creator as we should. Our love is conditional, twisted, and often misplaced. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, our appearance is rotted away with sin. But by the grace of God, Jesus came to earth to restore that image to those who would accept His sacrifice.

 

If we are created in the image of God, the incarnate One who died on Calvary for each one of us to recreate in us His perfect image, then we should have the greatest respect for ourselves and each other. As a Christian who has claimed the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins, I cannot look at another human being with disdain. I do sometimes. But that is an act of sacrilege. You know how you feel when someone says something negative about your child, leaves them out of a game at a birthday party, refuses to play nicely on the playground, spreads rumors about them in high school? It makes you livid because your child is part of you. Your child bears your image. How does God feel when we belittle each other?

 

The last chorus of the song “So Will I,” by Hillsong United, presents this beautifully:

 

I can see Your heart

Eight billion different ways

Every precious one

A child You died to save

If You gave Your life to love them so will I

 

Let us remember in whose image we are created. Let us remember who died so that that image could be restored. And let us remember that God’s image is shown best when we love one another.

___

Notes

[1] Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 46.

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About the author

Sarah Burton

Sarah Burton holds an MA in Religion from Andrews University. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor in Ooltewah, Tennessee where she lives with her husband Kevin, toddler, and dog. (Photo taken by Jennifer Shrestha)