There’s a line in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov that reads, “I think if the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.” What a difference that is from “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” (Gen 1.26, NRSV).
Unfortunately, to often we do reflect the devil’s image. We are sinners. Whether it is an act of commission or omission, we sin and do evil. But that is not all we are as God’s created people, it is what we’ve chosen to be. Yet in a world run so afoul it is tempting to accept the aberration as natural, believing sin and evil to be as natural as water springing up from the ground to form a mighty river. So, beginning with Israel, God tell us something different. God offers us an alternative story, to form “a countercommunity with a counterconsciousness” (Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 21). Consequently, we are reminded of the divine image we bear as creation to remind us of our created capacity to be God’s royal representatives in life rather than delegates for the devil.
Being the royal representatives of God is the vocational task of having “dominion” over the rest of creation. So our alternative story continues:
…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.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill them 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.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. (Gen.1.26-30, NRSV)
Having dominion over the earth is the result of being created in the image of God (Von Rad, Genesis, 15). It insists that dominion is exercised as representatives of God, who is our template.
The historical context for this creation narrative is the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian captivity. Thus, the frame of reference for Israel to hear this alternative story was their experience of God’s redemptive liberation. They understood God to one who was moved to act redemptively by their cries of desperation (Ex 2.23-24; 3.7-9). Yahweh has thus shown himself to be the Holy God of grace, of blessing, or benevolence. This in turn becomes the behavior that is to characterize the exercise of dominion over the rest of creation. As the created people of God, we are and have the capacity to be good stewards who act with benevolence, with blessing, and with grace towards the rest of creation Rather than living as self-serving exploiters of creation, we are to, as the late Stanley J. Grenz said, “mirror for the sake of creation the nature of the creator” (Created for Community, 75).
As life is a gift from God, this too is part of that gift. We have been created with the capacity to be participants in creation–being people of blessing–so that the life we are part of on earth will flourish and live as God created life to be lived. God calls us to be such participants because we, and we alone, bear his divine image.