In The Image of God: An Alternative Story

In the Genesis creation narrative we learn that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over the rest of creation (Gen 1.26-28).  Furthermore, this is something which God regards as “very good” (Gen 1.31).  This is a bold claim being made about our created nature and purpose as human-beings.  In our times, I don’t think we always appreciate how radical this claim is.

If you are God and you have 1) liberated Israel from their Egyptian bondage with 2) the intention of calling them into a covenant relationship that will 3) demonstrate the greatness of God before the world (Duet 4.5-8), where do you begin?

We know that Israel was held in brutal slavery for 430 years (Ex 12.40).  430 years is a long time.  Besides the brutal treatment, living in Egyptian captivity was a life filled alternative stories of creation.  One of the most popular alternative stories was the Babylonian Enuma Elish.  The plot of this story is a war between the gods of Marduk and Tiamat.  Marduk wins this war, slicing Tiamat in half, using half of his body to form the heavens and the other half to form the world.

The Babylonian account of creation is a story of polytheism and violence in which neither god is sovereign by nature nor is there a concern for the welfare of creation, including people.  That is quite different from the claims made in Genesis which include monotheism, peace, an all-powerful God, and a genuine love and concern for the welfare of creation as well as a special purpose and calling for humanity.  This special purpose and calling is, I believe, to live in community with God and each other as his co-participants in creation who bear his image in likeness.  Over the next several posts, I’d like to flesh this purpose and calling out a bit more by looking closer at what it means to bear God’s image in his likeness, in community, and as participants in creation with this background information in mind.

From my studies, what seem important as we read the Genesis creation narrative is to know first, that it was given first to a people living in a pre-scientific era of history.  That means that even though this account may provide us with some answers to questions we have regarding creation, its purpose is not to answer the questions of when and how in a scientific sense but rather who and why in a theological sense.  The Genesis creation narrative is, I believe, intended as theology rather than science.

Second, though the Genesis creation account speaks about what happened “in the beginning” (Gen 1.1), it was not given as a generic account in a historical vacuum.  Rather it was given to the people of Israel at a time when sin and evil already existed.  Thus, this account is an alternative story about who Israel is…an alternative story to what other gods have said.  Subsequently, it is an alternative story about who we are and what others have said about us.

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7 responses to “In The Image of God: An Alternative Story

  1. Hello Rex!
    Visiting your blog today, good to see your thoughts. Look forward to more thoughts on Genesis. One thing I learned from Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” is that the first part of Genesis is actually poem and there are layers of literary meaning that would have much significance to the nation of Israel as it was called to be the people led by God. Like you have mentioned it painted a far different picture of who God is compared to what the other nations believed. It is so worth studying the first 3 chapters of Genesis as it reveals so much of who He is and who we are. Do you have any recommendations for books that study deeper into all that Genesis reveals? I once tried to match the story of creation to science but it has made much more sense in understanding it from theological sense, as you have stated. Wish you could spend the time here (on your blog) to break it all down but I know you have many issues at heart. Have a great day. Amy

    • Amy,

      I really enjoyed Bell’s presentation of “Everything is Spiritual.” As far as resources…

      Nahum Sarna, “Understanding Genesis” (Amazon link: http://goo.gl/TeTdC). Sarna (deceased) was a Jewish Biblical Scholar. I’ve not read the entire book but I have enjoyed the insights he brings as an Old Testament scholar who was also Jewish. It is fairly easy to read, avoiding a lot of technical minutia.

      Walter Brueggeman, “Genesis,” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching (Amazon link: http://goo.gl/XF1oZ). This is one of my favorite commentaries to consult when preparing a class or sermon on Genesis. While the commentary avoids getting bogged down in discussions regarding the Hebrew grammar and language, Brueggemann is always a deep read. He is perhaps, in my estimation, on the same par as N.T. Wright in the field of Old Testament studies

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. Pingback: In the Image of God: Bearing His Likeness « Kingdom Seeking

  3. Pingback: In the Image of God: Participants in Creation « Kingdom Seeking

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  5. Rex: Since you are a Christopher Wright fan, I wonder what you think of his value statement regarding man being created in the image of God. In a certain part of “The Mission of God,” I was struck at his, what seemed to be, dismissal of any particular value in the creation of humans beyond their value of being a part of creation.

    For example, on page 399 he writes:
    “So the earth has intrinsic value – that is to say, it is valued by God, who is the source of all the value. God values the earth because he made it and owns it. It is not enough merely to say that the earth is valuable to us. On the contrary….” (and here is where I want to focus on Wright’s value placement) “…our own value as human beings begins from the fact that we ourselves are part of the whole creation that God already values and declares to be good…[and]…we take our value from creation of which we are part, not vice versa.”

    So it seems Wright thinks our value is not in that we are image bearers, but simply that we are a part of creation and so God loves us because he loves His creation.

    Would you agree with his assessment? In reading your posts, I was thinking that this may be a point you disagree with Wright, but I wanted to ask.

    Grace be with you –
    Jr

    • Jr.,

      Thank you for your continued dialogue. This is certainly important stuff we need to think through and of which, I certainly have neither all the answers to nor the last word on what can be said.

      Any ways, I should go back and read that section of Wright’s book but at this point that I probably do disagree with him on on this point.

      I do wonder about what significance does God’s redemptive act in Christ bear upon the rest of creation. The biblical picture is not one in which the creation (save humanity) is neglected and left unredeemed (= score one for the ‘green’ people). Yet at the same time it would seem to be a big mischaracterization of scripture to say that God’s redemptive love acted out in Christ was as much for animals and earth as it was for humanity, which does place some greater significance upon humanity who bears God’s image yet has failed to live according to it’s divine image and purpose.

      Any ways, I have more questions than I have answers to on these matters. Maybe one day I’ll have the answers and maybe not. Regardless, Christ will return again to which we shall be raised with that imperishable and immortal body and that will be satisfactory.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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