What Are We Made to Be?
We won’t really understand or be able to embrace our God-given vocation if we don’t understand what He has made us to be. This drives us back to Genesis 1:26. Genesis is the backstory on the rest of the Pentateuch and, indeed, of the whole Bible. You can’t really understand the gospel if you don’t understand Genesis.15 And that means that, unless you understand Genesis, you can’t be what God means you to be.
A thoughtful reading of Genesis 1:1-25 makes it clear that everything God created before us was preparing a place for us. He “formed [the earth] to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18). From the earth’s formlessness in 1:2, He was fashioning an ordered cosmos where we can fulfill our divine vocation.16
Into this ordered, inhabitable world God prepared to introduce human beings. The progression from plants through the water and winged creatures to the land animals involved creating a hierarchy to which we were now to be added as the highest living beings. As Paul Beauchamp observes, “The living creatures converge towards the man.”17 But creating us involved another difference: For the first time, God paused to announce what He was about to do, making an unusual first-person plural statement: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).18 As Gerhard von Rad has written, “Nothing [in this account] is here by chance; everything must be considered carefully, deliberately, and precisely. … What is said here is intended to hold true entirely and exactly as it stands.”19 Us and our are here for good reason.
They alert us that something momentous was about to happen, something of a different order than all that had happened before. God would make us in His own image and after His own likeness. His “Let us make” emphasized that we are only creatures, while His “in our image, after our likeness” stressed our godlikeness. As His first word concerning human being,20 we must understand ourselves primarily in its terms. As Blocher says, “An image is only an image. It exists only by derivation. It is not the original, nor is it anything without the original. Mankind’s being an image stresses the radical nature of his dependence.”21 Ultimately, we must understand who we are in terms of the relationship that defines us. We will never adequately understand ourselves if we think of ourselves primarily as the most highly developed animal species or if we calibrate our worth against the vastness of the stars. We must think of ourselves primarily as God’s earthly images. David understood this. In Psalm 8, he glanced up towards the starry heavens and felt “the staggering contrast between a human and the great bodies, processes, and powers in the world and the cosmos,” which, “when noticed, [can bring] with it an overwhelming sense of insignificance and displacement.”22 This led him to ask, “[W]hat are mere mortals that you” – that is, God – “should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Ps. 8:4 NLT). But then with the ears of faith he heard God say He has situated us just a little below Himself and thus crowned us with glory and honor. David cured the vertigo induced by staring at the heavens by acknowledging a truth he could know only by faith (see Heb. 11:3). As one wise commentator has put it, Psalm 8’s main point is that “we can say ‘human being’ only after we have learned to say ‘God.’ … Humankind recognizes itself fully only in the recognition of the Being from whom all reality arises.”
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