This morning, we begin our series, “Exploring the Bible” and to quote Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C, when you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.” And when you read your Bible, you begin with Genesis.
Let’s start by watching this Bible Project video that will give us an overview of Genesis chapters 1-11, and then we’ll talk about what I believe is one of the key themes in this part of scripture.
Show VIDEO (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQI72THyO5I)
I’m fascinated by epitaphs that appear on tombstones. Some of them are profound, some of them are funny, and some of them are sad. I think maybe the saddest one I’ve ever heard of was the man who died and they put on his tombstone: “He came, stayed a while, and left.” Which seems to me to be a pretty sad summary of a person’s life.
But what if it had said, “He came, stayed a while, got married, worked at his job, raised a family, and left”? Or throw in, “He became a success in his career and made a pile of money.” It still seems like a pretty sad description of a person’s life. It just doesn’t seem like much. It’s still missing the purpose for which God created us.
Which raises the question – Why did God create us? Why did God create human beings? What’s the reason God put us here on this planet? There are times when I think we all feel like the man who said, “I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up — but some days I need one to tell me why.”
It’s shouldn’t be surprising that Genesis, the book of origins, tells us early on why God created people. I think there are actually several different answers to this question, but there are two that I want to share with you this morning.
1. God created people to reflect his image
In Genesis 1, beginning with verse 26, we read, “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.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
We’re told third times in these two verses that God created man “in his image.” We are the only part of creation that has this stamp on us. None of the animals, birds, livestock, or any of the creatures that crawl upon the ground were made in God’s image. None of the trees, mountains, stars, or oceans were made in God’s image. Only man, male and female.
But what exactly does it mean that man was made in God’s image? That’s something that theologians have argued about over the centuries, but perhaps part of the answer is found in verse 26 where God said, “Let us make man in our image”, and then he added the words, “after our likeness”. I think the essential element of being in God’s image is that man is able to reflect “God-likeness.”
Now, obviously, finite human beings, even before the fall, could never reflect completely or accurately the eternal, infinite nature of God. But with man’s personality, intelligence, and ability to know and relate to God, man is able to reflect God-likeness in a limited way.
There are a couple of passages in the New Testament that I think help us to understand what this means. In Colossians 3, Paul says that we “have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.” (Colossians 3:10, NET)
In Ephesians 4, Paul goes into a little more detail when he says that a Christian has “put on the new man who has been created in God’s image — in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.” (Ephesians 4:24, NET).
Paul tells us that righteousness, holiness, and truth are all included in what it means to be created in the image of God.
If you’ve ever gone to a carnival or county fair, you’ve probably seen funhouse mirrors. And it can be humorous for a tall skinny person to see what they would look like if they were short and heavyset, and vice versa. We laugh as our faces distort and our bodies stretch out of proportion. Carnival mirrors are fun to play with at the county fair, but it wouldn’t be so funny if we had to take that distorted look and carry it with us throughout our everyday lives.
And yet, in a sense, that’s what has happened to all of us. God created us in his image, but sin has caused us to live in a world of carnival mirrors. Our sin has distorted the image of God that lies within us, and we now live in a world that’s filled with people who bear this distorted image.
But, while the image of God in man was distorted by the fall, it wasn’t eradicated. While unredeemed men and women are not able to reflect the divine image to the same degree as those who are being conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29), there is even in fallen man a bit of that divine image.
In Genesis 9, after Noah got off the ark, God said that the punishment for murder should be capital punishment. And the reason he gave was this, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6). And it doesn’t matter who you are; you were made in the image of God.
I think that truth has some practical implications. The first is this: unless your life is connected with the Creator who put you here, your life will never look the way it should, the way that God intended for it to look. It will always be distorted, like those carnival mirrors.
And like the man whose tombstone I mentioned earlier, you’re born, you grow up, you live a few years trying to make a comfortable existence, but your body eventually grows old and you die (assuming you don’t die sooner)! And what’s the point of it all?
But if you come to know the eternal God through Jesus Christ who revealed him to us, and as your life begins to be shaped back into his image, then your life begins to have purpose and meaning beyond the grave. In the well-known words of Augustine, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee!”
A second implication is this: the fact that every human, every male, every female, is created in God’s image means that every human life is valuable, and every person needs to be treated with dignity and respect. An unborn baby is not to be killed just because it’s not convenient to have a child, or because the parents prefer having a boy instead of a girl. And even if the child is deformed or mentally deficient, it’s still a human life, made in the image of God.
As Christians, knowing that all people are made in God’s image, we must endeavor to treat all people with dignity and respect regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of age, nationality or economic status because we remember Jesus’ words that whatever we do for “the least of these my brothers, you did also to me” (Matthew 25:40).
And so, we care for those who are caught up in the vice grip of poverty. We fight against human trafficking. We uphold the dignity of the elderly and the disabled. We promote racial reconciliation. And we do all of this out of a love for God and a concern for those who bear his sacred image.
A third implication is this: since those of us who are Christians have “put on the new man who has been created in God’s image — in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.” (Ephesians 4:24, NET) thatmeans that we all need to commit ourselves to grow in godliness. It means that our goal is to strive to reflect God’s image in every aspect and area of our lives, to act the way that God would act, to speak the way that God would speak, to love the way that God would love, and to serve the way that God would serve — in our families, at our workplace, in our community.
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3, whenever we come to Christ, we “can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT). To use the illustration of those carnival mirrors, as we grow in Christ, we begin to look less and less like those distorted views, and more and more like the image of God in a true mirror.
God created people to reflect his image. But, stemming from that fact is a second reason God made us:
2. God created people to rule over creation
After God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”, he then said, “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.” (Genesis 1:26)
And then he said again in verse 28, “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 1:28).
That word “dominion” suggests the right to rule, to govern, to control. It’s kingdom terminology. For example, when Julius Caesar ruled over the Roman Empire, he gave dominion over Judea to a man named Herod. And it was the responsibility of King Herod to rule over Judea, to govern it. That was his dominion.
But with that responsibility came some restrictions. King Herod was not given authority over the entire Roman Empire, only Judea. And he was not to have dominion in a way that was self-serving. Rather, he was to rule in a way that brought honor and glory to Julius Caesar, the one who put him in that position. King Herod was responsible for shaping his kingdom so that it was an appropriate part of the larger kingdom, the Roman Empire.
In the same way, God created man, male and female, for the purpose of having dominion over this world, to rule it, to control it. But with that responsibility comes some restrictions. First of all, man was not given authority over all things in heaven and on earth. Man’s authority has never been supreme. While man was given authority by God to rule, it is important that we never forget that man is not God. Rather, man is created by God. And, from the beginning, God intended that we rule and reign upon this earth as servants to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And we are not to rule in a way that is self-serving. Rather, God intended that man rule over this world in a way that brings honor and glory to God, the one who put us in this position. And our job is to shape this kingdom so that it is an appropriate part of God’s larger kingdom.
I believe the fact that man was made in the image and likeness of God, and the fact that man was given dominion over all the earth are very closely related. In fact, I would say that man and woman were created in the image of God so that they could exercise dominion over all the earth. God made us to be like him, so that we can be the sort of king that he is.
To put it another way, as God’s image-bearers in creation, it was God’s intention that we act as his representatives. We were designed by God to show the world what God is like. So, when God gave us the command to rule over this earth, the expectation was that we would do so in a way that reflects his character.
When our kids were young, there were occasionally times when Sueanne and I would go out for the night and we would hire a babysitter to come in and watch the kids. We basically gave that babysitter the right to rule our household while we were away. But when we asked someone to watch our kids, we didn’t say, “You’re in control. You can do whatever you want to do.”
No, we expected that babysitter to maintain the rules that our family had in place. During the time that she was in control, that babysitter was to act as a representative of Sueanne and me.
And I think human dominion is like that, but on a much grander scale. When God gave man dominion over this world and placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, he didn’t tell them, “You’re in control. You can do whatever you want to do.” Rather, he told them to “care for it and maintain it” (Genesis 2:15, NET).
This was God’s intention, but all you have to do to look around at this world and it’s clear we’re not living in paradise anymore. There are some beautiful things in our world, but we’ve also made a mess of a lot of it. Rather than using our dominion to take care of this earth, we’ve chosen to conquer it instead.
And don’t misunderstand me to say that dominion is all about how we treat the environment. I do think it involves how we interact with the world around us, but it’s so much more than that. Dominion touches every part of our being. And a big part of having dominion over the earth is working to spread the kingdom of God so that this world begins to look more and more like the larger kingdom of God.
Man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God so that God’s kingdom might to be advanced on this earth. So that worship of God might be promoted. So that this world might come to see more and more of God’s love. Were Adam and Eve kings? Yes! But they were created to function as kings living for the glory of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
To put it another way, man was created in the image and likeness of God and was given dominion, not so that he might promote the advancement of his own kingdom, but so that he might further the kingdom of God here on this earth. Adam and Eve, having been made in God’s image, were to work towards the establishment and expansion of a culture on earth where all of their offspring would worship and serve their Creator, just as they were created to do.
And as we exercise our dominion in this world, we do so not harshly, but with love and grace and service. Because that’s a reflection of the image of God.
As Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
Adam and Eve were to have dominion over the world, but they were never to exploit it or abuse it. So, God ruled over man, and man ruled over creation.
But then that hierarchy was overturned in Genesis 3. The moment that Eve listened to the serpent and took that fruit, we knew that something terrible was going to happen. And from that moment on, everything is messed up, including our dominion.
Because of sin, we exercise our authority in less than God-honoring ways. We dominate those over whom we hold authority. Because sin turns our focus inward, we tend to do what we think is best for us. If it’s best to dominate, then that’s what we’ll do. But that only works until we realize that we live in a world filled with people who want to dominate just like we do.
And the only way we can get out of that cycle is to remember that we were made in the image of God and so we learn how to exercise authority the way that God does, to learn to be the kind of king that he is.
God made us individually, and corporately as his church, to reflect His image by being godly people. He made us to rule over his creation as responsible stewards of the earth, and to do what we can to bring this world into submission to his kingship.
That’s why God created people. That’s why He created you — to know and grow to be like the one in whose image you were created, to reign with him, and to be used by him in his kingdom. When you realize, life takes on new meaning. And at the end of your life your tombstone can say more than just “He came, stayed a while, and left.”