Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:26–28
In the opening chapter of the story of creation we read that God created humankind – both male and female – in his own image, and that he blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and to care for the earth. Right from the start, God shows himself as the creator who “saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Here, right at the beginning of the Bible, God reveals his heart to us. Here we discover God’s plan for our lives.
Many, if not most, modern Christians dismiss the story of creation as a myth. Others insist that only the strictest, most literal interpretation of Genesis is valid. I simply have reverence for the word of the Bible as it stands. On the one hand, I would not think of arguing away anything in it; on the other, I believe that scientific discoveries should caution us not to take the biblical account of creation too literally. As Peter says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet. 3:8).
God’s image sets us apart.
Exactly how human beings were created remains a mystery for the creator alone to unveil. Yet I am sure of one thing: no person can find meaning or purpose without God. Rather than dismiss the creation story simply because we do not understand it, we need to find its inner, true meaning and rediscover its significance for us today.
In our depraved age, reverence for God’s plan as described in Genesis has been almost completely lost. We do not treasure the meaning of creation enough – the significance of both man and woman as creatures formed in the image and likeness of God. This likeness sets us apart in a special way from the rest of creation and makes each human life sacred (Gen. 9:6). To view life in any other way – for instance, to view others only in the light of their usefulness, and not as God sees them – is to disregard their worth and dignity.
What does creation “in God’s image” mean? It means that we are to be a living picture of who God is. It means that we are to be co-workers who further his work of creating and nurturing life. It means that we belong to him, and that our being, our very existence, should always remain related to him and bound to his authority. The moment we separate ourselves from God we lose sight of our purpose here on earth.
In Genesis we read that we have the living spirit of God: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). In giving us his spirit, God made us responsible beings who possess the freedom to think and act, and to do so in love.
But even if we possess a living spirit, we remain only images of the creator. And when we look at creation in a God-centered, not human-centered, way we will understand our true place in his divine order of things. The person who denies that God is his origin, who denies that God is a living reality in his life, will soon be lost in a terrible emptiness. Ultimately, he will find himself trapped in the self-idolatry that brings with it self-contempt and a contempt for the worth of others.
All of us long for what is imperishable.
What would we be if God had not breathed his breath into us? Darwin’s whole theory of evolution, by itself, is dangerous and futile because it is not God-centered. Something inside each of us cries out against the idea that we have been hatched by a purposeless universe. Deep within the human spirit is a thirst for what is lasting and imperishable.
Since we are made in God’s image, and God is eternal, we cannot, at the end of life, merely vanish again like smoke. Our life is rooted in eternity. Christoph Blumhardt writes, “Our lives bear the mark of eternity, of the eternal God who created us in his image. He does not want us to be swallowed up in what is transitory, but calls us to what is eternal.”1
God has set eternity in our hearts, and deep within each of us is a longing for eternity. When we deny this and live only for the present, everything that happens to us in life will remain cloaked in tormenting riddles, and we will remain deeply dissatisfied. This is especially true in the sexual area. Casual sex desecrates the soul’s yearning and capacity for that which is eternal. No person, no human arrangement, can ever fill this longing of our souls.
The voice of eternity speaks most directly to our conscience. Therefore the conscience is perhaps the deepest element within us. It warns, rouses, and commands us in our God-given task (Rom. 2:14–16). And every time the soul is wounded, our conscience makes us painfully aware of it. If we listen to our conscience, it can guide us. When we are separated from God, however, our conscience will waver and go astray. This is true not only for an individual, but also for a marriage.
Already in Genesis, chapter 2, we read about the importance of marriage. When God created Adam, he said that everything he had made was good. Then he created woman to be a helpmate and partner to man, because he saw that it was not good for man to be alone. This is a deep mystery: man and woman – the masculine and the feminine – belong together as a picture of who God is, and both can be found in him. Together they become what neither would be apart and alone.
Everything created by God gives us an insight into his nature – mighty mountains, immense oceans, rivers, and great expanses of water; storms, thunder and lightning, huge icebergs; meadows, flowers, trees, and ferns. There is power, harshness, and manliness, but there is also gentleness, motherliness, and sensitivity. And just as the various forms of life in nature do not exist without each other, God’s children, too, male and female, do not exist alone. They are different, but they are both made in God’s image, and they need each other to fulfill their true destinies.
When God’s image is defaced, life’s relationships lose purpose.
It is a tragedy that in much of today’s society the differences between man and woman are blurred and distorted. The pure, natural image of God is being destroyed. There is endless talk about women’s equality, but in practice women are abused and exploited more than ever before. In films, on television, in magazines, and on billboards the ideal woman (and increasingly, the ideal man) is portrayed as a mere sex object.
Generally speaking, marriages in our society are no longer regarded as sacred. Increasingly they are seen as experiments or as contracts between two people who measure everything in terms of their own interests. When marriages fail, there is the option of no-fault divorce, and after that a new attempt at marriage with a new partner. Many people no longer even bother to make promises of faithfulness; they just live together. Women who bear and raise children or stay married to the same husband are sometimes scorned. And even when their marriage is a healthy one, they are often seen as victims of oppression who need to be “rescued” from male domination.
Children are often no longer treasured. In Genesis, God commanded, “Be fruitful and increase.” Today we avoid the “burden” of unwanted offspring by means of legalized abortion. Children are viewed as a bother; they are too expensive to be brought into the world, to be raised, to be given a college education. They are an economic strain on our materialistic lives. They are even too time-consuming to love.
Is it any wonder that so many in our time have lost hope? That so many have given up on the possibility of enduring love? Life has lost its value; it has become cheap; most people no longer see it as a gift from God. Advances in biomedical engineering and in fetus screening techniques enable growing numbers of couples to choose an abortion for selfish reasons. Without God, life is absurd, and there is only darkness and the deep wound of separation from him.
Despite the efforts of many dedicated individuals, the church today has failed miserably in grappling with this situation. All the more, each of us must go back to the beginning and ask ourselves once again, “Why did God create man and woman in the first place?” God created every person in his image, and he has set a specific task for every man, woman, and child on this earth, a task he expects us to fulfill. No one can disregard God’s purpose for his creation or for himself without suffering deep inner need (Ps. 7:14–16).
The materialism of our time has emptied life of moral and spiritual purpose. It separates us from one another, and it hinders us from seeing the world with awe and wonder and from seeing our true task. The sickness of soul and spirit brought about by consumerism has eaten so deeply into our conscience that it is no longer able to mirror good and evil clearly. Yet there is still a deep-seated need in each of us that makes us long for what is good and right.
We will find healing only if we believe firmly that God created us and that he is the giver of life, love, and mercy. As we read in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
In God’s son – in Jesus – the creator’s image appears with utmost clarity and finality (Col. 1:15). As the perfect image of God, and as the only way to the Father, he brings us life and unity, joy and fulfillment. Only when our life is lived in him can we experience his truth and goodness, and only in him can we find our true destiny. This destiny is to be God’s image; to rule over the earth in his spirit, which is the creative, life-giving spirit of love.
1. Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt and Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Now Is Eternity (Farmington, PA: Plough, 1999), 28. Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt (1842–1919) was a German pastor, author, and religious socialist.
From Sex, God and Marriage.