Image/Identity: What does the Bible say about the origin of human life?
Ludwig von Feuerbach was a nineteenth-century atheist who curiously declared that God did not make us but rather we made God as a figment of our imagination. Students of his thinking include Karl Marx, who applied this politically, Sigmund Freud, who applied this psychologically, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who applied this philosophically.
Conversely, in Genesis 1 and 2 we see that we did not create God, but rather God created us in his image and likeness. The fountainhead verses on the origin of human life are found in Genesis 1:26–27:
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.
Admittedly, the number of verses in Scripture clearly declaring that God made human beings in his image and likeness (also commonly referred to by the Latin phrase imago Dei) are few.1
However, it is not enough simply to search the Bible for the phrase “image of God.” Sinclair Ferguson writes, “While statistically the phrase is infrequent, the interpretation of man which it enshrines is all-pervasive.”2 There are twelve vital truths revealed in the biblical revelation that we were made in the image and likeness of God. Taken together, they provide the essence of a biblical anthropology.
- We were created by the Trinity. Augustine was fond of noting that the plural language of Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” means we were created by the Trinity. Because of this, we are to understand ourselves not as autonomous individuals but rather as image bearers made for four categories of relationship. Theologically, we are to live in relationship with God. Psychologically, we are to live in relationship with ourselves, knowing who God intends for us to be. Socially, we are to live in relationship with other people, in community. Environmentally, we are to live in relationship with all that God has put under our dominion, including animals.
- We were created as persons by a personal God. The Scriptures make note of this by explaining how, unlike the rest of creation, which was made solely by God’s word, God formed us by his proverbial hands and then breathed life into us.3
- God originally made mankind without sin. Genesis 1:31 calls our first parents “very good” in comparison to the rest of creation, which God simply called “good.” Also, Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “God made man upright.” Therefore, all human sin is fully the responsibility of sinners and not of God our creator. In addition, all the effects of sin and the curse were not originally part of the world God created for us in love.
- God blesses us.4 In so doing, God reveals to us that he is a good God who does not need to be prompted or compelled to give grace; rather, he delights in doing so and does so without request.
- Unlike the animals who were made according to their “own kind,” we are made in the “image of God.” This makes human life distinct from and superior to all other created things. We are altogether unique and bestowed with particular dignity, value, and worth.
- God gives commands to us because he made us as moral image bearers. We can know right and wrong, and we can respond to God with moral obedience as an act of faith and love.
- God made us curious adventurers and granted us permission to explore his creation through everything from a telescope to a microscope.5 Because God made us this way, we have an insatiable curiosity that begins once we are born and continues throughout our life as we seek to experience and learn, travel the world, and explore every nook of creation.
- God created us to be creative and invited us to make culture.6 This explains the innate love people have for everything from fashion to film, music, theater, architecture, painting, photography, dance, storytelling, and the like.
- God created us to be reproductive and have children.7 This explains why many people long to be parents and consider children a great blessing.
- God made us with meaningful work to do.8 This helps to explain why there is an innate drive in most people to work.
- God created us as his image bearers, but not because he needed us in any way. He bestowed on us the dignity of being his image bearers solely for our benefit, not his own. The church father Irenaeus explains, “God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but so that He might have someone upon whom to confer His benefits.”9 Similarly, Lactantius (AD 240–320) said, “It cannot be said that God made the world for His own sake. For He can exist without the world. . . . It is evident, therefore, that the world was constructed for the sake of living beings, since living beings enjoy those things that it consists of.”10
- God created us to live coram Deo. Coram Deo means to live “before the face of God” and was commonly used by John Calvin and others throughout church history to explain the Christian life. Practically speaking, we were created to live all of life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, by the Word of God, to the glory of God. We were created to live all of life before the face of God, knowing that nothing in our life is secular or separated from the sight of God because all of life is sacred. To live otherwise is sacrilege.
After noting that God created our first parents in his image and likeness, we then see that they, unlike the rest of creation, related to God in a unique way. For starters, mankind was not made to live independent of God but rather dependent upon God. One theologian says, “The relationship between God and man was not one between equals. Nor was it one of autonomy. Man is dependent upon God for the blessings of life and sustenance; and man is accountable to God in the areas of service and obedience!”11Furthermore, the relationship between God and our first parents is not only one of dependence, but also of grace. Dr. John Piper says, “Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve experienced God’s goodness not as a response to their demerit (since they didn’t have any) but still without deserving God’s goodness. You can’t deserve to be created. You can’t deserve, as a non-being, to be put into a lavish garden where all your needs are met by a loving Father. So even before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived on grace. And God’s will for them was that they live by faith in future grace—God’s daily, fatherly care and provision.”12
In summary, God made us without any need or benefit for himself. He has made us and loved us purely of grace at great cost to himself.
Like a child is dependent upon a parent to care for them and speak to them, so is our relationship with God from the Garden. We were given the ability to communicate with God and one another that no other creature was given. We can hear God’s Word and live in light of revelation from him. Even in their sinless state our first parents were dependent upon God and needed to hear from God. Thus, in our sinful and fallen state we even more desperately need to hear from God. Thankfully, this is possible because, unlike lower creation such as plants and animals, our relationship with God is tethered with words—he speaks to us through Scripture and other forms of revelation, and we speak to him in such things as prayer and song.
As thinking beings, we are able to interpret and make meaning out of the revelation we receive. Simply, we can think, ponder, consider, probe, and learn unlike anything else God has made. For us to correctly understand and apply the revelation we receive, we must do the hard work of loving God with all our mind so that the facts we receive can become not just information, but information that contributes to our transformation.
As worshipers, revelation and interpretation culminate in exaltation. Because they were image bearers, our first parents were created to worship God in thought, word, deed, and motive. All of their life was supposed to be lived in light of who God is, what God does, and what God says. They were supposed to interpret all of this revelation and respond to God in ways that would both bring him glory and them joy as they were doing what he created them to do.
In an age of endless information, it is easy to overlook the simple fact that God has made us to receive, interpret, and act upon information. However, this tremendous gift is one that blesses us every single day and makes even simple things like this daily devotional possible.
Do you really believe that God does not need you, is not using you, and loves you like a perfect father loves a child?