Sunday, 29 September 2013

Let's start at the beginning

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

This verse (and even more so the chapter that follows it) gives us a context for our lives.  We, as inhabitants of the earth, are part of the stuff that God created.  God chose to create us - he didn't have to, but he did - along with the stars and the "creatures that move along the ground".  This means that, in God's economy, we have a purpose - our lives and existence have meaning.  The Bible is quick to tell us what that purpose is...

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [the rest of the animal kingdom]."  (Genesis 1:28)

We are image-bearers.  Our purpose is to reflect what God is like to the rest of the created order.  Can there be a more honourable task?  Could there ever be a greater privilege?

For reflection:
  1. Read from Genesis 1:1 up to 2:3.  Does the passage raise any questions for you?  What does it tell you about God?
  2. What does the fact that you have been created by God tell you about your relationship with him?
  3. How are you doing with your God-appointed purpose?  What would help you with this?


  1. It may be the wrong thing to apply earthly logic to this, but let's start there at least!
    1. Trouble is that the 'making man in our image' assertion is surrounded by others which largely conflict with the widely-held, expert description of our universe and its creation. So if I am not meant to take most of Genesis literally, then it doesn't seem unreasonable to be sceptical about the 'in God's image' bit.
    2. And if God has chosen to make me in His image, then presumably he has done so along with and equally to every other human. So doesn't that hugely restrict the scope for fulfilling His purpose (Francis of Assisi and Dr Dolittle excepted)?

    1. In a world created by God, “earthly” logic has its roots in a good place, so let's not worry too much about using it. :-)

      In response to your two points:

      1. Whilst I feel the force of your “if … then” statement, I suspect that you are using the word “literally” in a way which the Bible, and particularly its opening chapters, would not recognise. Personally, I think we need to be careful not to treat the creation account in Genesis as if it were a science text-book, because it was not written as such. Yet we can understand it in its “literal” sense – that is, in the way the author intended it to be understood. The author’s major points, I believe, are crystal clear; that “in the beginning”, out of nothing, God made all things seen and unseen, and he made them well (look at the number of repetitions of these ideas in the text of Genesis 1). The “experts” have no evidence to disprove this; indeed, the Bible’s claim that a moral, personal, relational God is the prime mover in creation is, even under the ordinary terms of scientific method, at least as plausible as the best secular alternatives (e.g. a pre-existing infinitely dense, infinitely small particle just randomly, and without cause, exploded with enough force not to implode immediately, but not so much force as to vaporise its content instantaneously). Actually, far from being predominantly “in conflict” with the scientific account, we note from the passage the kind of things that scientific research also reveals, e.g. that there is clearly extraordinary diversity in the universe, as well as observable order –which, curiously, is the a priori assumption upon which our whole scientific endeavour is based. When we note that the “in God’s image” claim is obviously the key focus of the climactic moment of the passage (v26 is different from the other creative words – “Let us make” rather than “Let there be” – and v27 is poetry, centred around the idea of “image”), I don’t believe it is unreasonable to take it very seriously indeed.

      2. Your presumption is correct. The Bible affirms that every human being is made in God’s image. This tells us something very important about both our essential equality, and about the honour and respect we should show to one another. I’m guessing your citation of Francis and Dolittle as exceptions is indicative of your [completely accurate] observation that generally, humankind is pretty poor at ruling wisely over the rest of the animal kingdom and the natural environment as a whole. You are not the first to notice the gulf between the “good” world God created according to the Bible and the world as we experience it now. You won’t be surprised to know that the Bible deals with this conundrum too…

    2. Many thanks for your considered response, and please don't think that I'm being frivolous; clearly from the evidence of billions of people across the world and throughout the years, the Bible deserves to be taken seriously.
      Personally I am reasonably comfortable with the concept of a Creator; I'm just confused as to why Genesis should dress up the proposition in a tale which - in my mind - seems to dilute its authenticity and magnificence.
      And regarding humankind's imapct on the world and created order; surely - in the very, very short time we have been around - our effect has been catastrophic, causing extinction of thousands of other species and destroying the natural environment. Wouldn't it have served God's purpose better if He hadn't given man that power in the first place?

    3. Worry not … frivolity sensors not picking up any signals!

      I suspect it’s a matter of culture – as we try to understand this passage today, we must first consider how it would have been received by the first hearers and readers. I accept this “tale” dilutes the proposition’s authenticity and magnificence for you, but I don’t think it would have had the same effect then. Indeed, I wonder what your reaction would be to some of the other “creation narratives” which were doing the rounds at the time. In my view, comparatively this reeks of authenticity!

      And as to man’s primary task … I would see the care of creation (in which we have spectacularly failed as you have so eloquently identified) is merely one practical expression of our ultimate purpose, not our sole purpose. The Bible tells us we are God’s image-bearers, and thus called to bring honour to Him in all aspects of our behaviour – thought, word and deed. If we refuse, and bring dishonour instead (bearing false testimony about the God we are supposed to represent), then there can be no doubt that God has a problem. But then, perhaps in the rectifying of that problem there’s greater honour for God than if the problem never presented itself…

    4. So let me get this right; God has made each and every one of us with an intimate understanding of His nature (in His image) so that we can reflect that in our every interaction. So what might have gone amiss with my understanding?

    5. Curious you should ask that, because that's exactly where the story of the Bible goes next. And Exploretumn follows it...