Who Are We? Helpless Refugees or Beloved Children?
Who Are We?
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)
Image. Likeness. Dominion. These words ring out from Scripture, looking for a way into our hearts. When Moses wrote them down, the people of God were wandering in the wilderness, searching for an answer to our question. In a matter of months, God’s people go from slaves in self-assured, corrupt Egypt to crossing the Red Sea, rescued by YHWH Most High. He leads them to Mount Sinai to bless them with his law – and while Moses is writing it down, they are worshiping a golden calf, dancing around it (and worse). They promise to do everything God says – and then refuse to enter the Promised Land because they fear the inhabitants more than they trust their God. So God turns them around and leads them back in the wilderness, where they must learn who they are and to whom they belong.
As some of the first words of that education, Moses writes down the book of Genesis. To a people who’ve been told that the world around them is the result of mad deities in constant conflict, Moses reveals that the One True God spoke creation into existence, transformed chaos into order with his Spirit. To a people who believe they are helplessly caught in the midst of such conflicts, Moses reveals that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God.
The Israelites came out of Egypt, where they knew something about images and likenesses. All around them were temples filled with towering idols, representations of all the different members of Egypt’s pantheon. In homes would be teraphim, household idols that represent deceased ancestors to be appeased and prayed to for protection. But the temples – those are the places where Egypt’s priests showed off the power of their gods. What nation could have such gods that might stand against the mighty Anubis, god of death and rebirth? Bast, goddess of cats? Isis, goddess of healing? Osiris her husband, the god of life? These and a hundred more would have giant ‘images’ or ‘likenesses’ in their temples, reflecting the meager glory of their false gods to terrorize and tyrannize their worshippers. Against that background of cruelty, deceit, and corruption, God tells Moses of his work in creation – he orders all things after his will – he lavishes special care on one corner of creation – and into that garden-temple he places His own image (not dead idols but living, breathing humanity!) to reflect his glory and extend his wise, powerful, and loving care throughout creation.
That is Who We Are – God’s image-bearers, reflecting the light of His grace and love into our rebellious world. Let the words of Genesis 1:26-28 soak into your soul and transform your worldview this week.