Vijai Singh: Genesis 1:24-41 (12 January 2020)
How should we view ourselves as Christians? How should we view other human beings, whether Christian or not? What makes us special and valuable as humans? In fact, what makes a homeless or a bagger in the street valuable irrespective of their state of life? Do they have an intrinsic value as humans? If yes, where is it found?
It is easy for people in general, sometimes even Christians, to think what makes them special or valuable is what they have or what they do or how they look or their achievements. In my own country, people base their intrinsic value even in their caste or family background, besides money, status, possessions, and achievements.
An interesting practice in my own country is that people often have special titles pasted on their cars, related to their profession or caste or status (e.g. Lawyers, MLA or MP, ARMY, etc.) to let everyone know that they are influential and powerful people (although against the Law).
On the other hand, atheists like Richard Dawkins, see humans with no intrinsic value at all. He describes humans as “selfish gene” or as “African apes” who are cousins of chimpanzees. In other words, we are no better than a pig or an insect. We have no intrinsic (inborn/innate) value because we are the result of an accident or a “big bang” – unplanned and ingenuous (artless) creatures with no purpose or destiny. We make our own rules to live by and so we can do anything for our survival. There are no moral absolutes! Even rape is not always wrong if I or my society approve it. In fact, racism is actually based on this evolutionary view of man … in other words, the color of your skin decides your value because the fairer you are, the more evolved you are, the better you are … various anthropologies!
Various views regarding the human value or mankind
The Greek philosophers earlier described mankind as a “rational animal” – Aristotle defines mankind as a “political animal,” later Benjamin Franklin calls him “a tool-making animal.” The philosophies of Freud and Karl Marx turn mankind into a social or sexual animal. Vivekananda (Hinduism) generally describes mankind as essentially divine being as one with the Divine. However, it is his very religion that discriminates people based on their caste. In the corporate world today, generally, one’s value is seen in their skills or abilities or productivity or efficiency at work. Our world, if not openly teaching, silently demonstrates that one’s value is found in their CV or profile, salary scale, number of degrees or achievements.
How we view people control our actions and attitudes towards them? E.g. the pro-choice view sees no value in a fetus or a fully formed baby in the womb and so supports killing him/her. Important question – What is mankind after-all? Is there a purpose to human existence? Is there an intrinsic value found in us? These are not just philosophical questions but fundamental to our existence. This is where the very first chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) provide us with crucial answers to all these questions. These answers are simple and yet so fundamental to understanding the origin and purpose of mankind’s existence on earth – the existence of the whole world. I have summarized it in three important truths about humanity that must shape our basic understanding of our own life and its purpose.
Mankind is God’s good Creation (v. 26) – i.e. created by God and created good
The book of Genesis is the most important book in the Bible because it tells us of the beginning (origin) of everything (the world, human race, cultures and their development, sin, salvation, etc.). It provides us with the most essential knowledge which could not have been acquired through any other human means because no humans were present to witness the beginnings of all things (science can at best come up with some theory based on fossils or other objects and present hypotheses). Moreover, this knowledge is fundamental to our existence as humans because it helps us to know that we have a beginning – a starting point. We don’t have to live in ignorance of the origin of our existence as seen in most manmade anthropologies of the world. And this knowledge can only come from the Triune God alone because He was there and was personally involved in the creation of the world as its only agent.
So, we can fully trust what Genesis tells us about mankind because it comes from God Himself who is the mastermind behind all the created things. What Moses is writing is trustworthy because it comes from a trustworthy source, unlike all other false anthropologies that are based on the assumptions and ideas of those who were not even there. In fact, this is one of the main purposes that Moses writes Genesis for. He wants to discredit all other man-made theories of the creation of the world by writing down the true account of it under God’s inspiration and direction.
And the first thing that our text presents to us about the creation of mankind is that God is the creator of the whole universe, but particularly of mankind. He created all things, including the first humans. How wonderful it is to know that humanity is an intentional and thoughtful creation of God’s own hands and His life dwells in us (Gen 2:7). It means we are not an accident of a chemical or biological reaction but an intentional creation of God. In fact, He pays special attention and effort to create mankind with His own hands (not just words), breathing in them His very own life. He designed every part of the human body and determined their functions. We are created intelligibly by God. We are the creation of an intelligent being.
At the same time, our text tells us that God created mankind good, without sin and imperfection (Gen 1:31). God created a good world with no evil in it. It shows God’s own goodness. Nothing sinful or evil comes from God. The problems (death, sufferings, sickness, pain, evil, climate change) that we see today with mankind were not part of their original creation. God is not to be blamed for the problems with mankind but humanity that is responsible for them (Genesis 3; Rom 3:10-12, 23) … often due to their own sin!
Our response to the truth that we are created by God and not a result of an accident – firstly, we need to realize that we are God’s good creation and are completely dependent on Him for our existence – we are not self-existent, autonomous or independent creatures but completely and constantly dependent on God. Don’t ever think you can survive without God. Biggest mistake of life. We need to submit to God and His rule over us if we want to live happily and meaningfully (Acts 17:25, 28) – we owe our very breath to God and we exist through and for Him (Col 1:16) – in our every move we are dependent on Him and cannot lift a finger apart from God’s will. He is the Sovereign master and ruler over us, and we owe our allegiance to Him. It is foolishness to rebel against Him and His laws. Genesis 11 is a good warning to us! We can only be happy and satisfied when we submit to God.
Secondly, we need to realize that we were not created corrupt or depraved or sinful but in a state of integrity, innocence, and holiness. We need to understand that sin is not part of man’s original creation but an alien reality from outside bringing a curse upon every area of human life (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). This means that we need to realize our true condition today – sinful beings and the need for a Savior. We are no longer good and innocent and blameless as were created first. There is something essentially wrong with mankind that needs remedy.
We were not only God’s good creation but also … God’s unique creation!
We are created uniquely by God – We are created above the rest of the created things (vv. 26-27)
vv 26-27 answer the question – what is unique about mankind from the rest of the created world? Atheists would say – “nothing” – we are cousins of bananas! The Mesopotamian religions of Moses’ time saw mankind created only as slaves to serve their masters, gods – like bulls and horses and donkeys – the Hindus would describe mankind’s uniqueness on the basis of where they originated from Brahma’s body – you are important if you came from the head, not the feet
But our text here describes mankind created as unique and distinct from the rest of the created world. The first thing we note here about the creation of mankind is that there is a discussion within the Trinity about it – “Let us make … in our image” (Deut 6:4; Jn 4:24; Matt 28:19). The Psalmist (Ps 8:5-8) describes mankind as crowned with glory and honor distinct from other creatures, particularly because they are in God’s image.
Now the question comes – what exactly is meant by the “image of God” in mankind? There have been various proposals given. However, it is generally held that it refers to the capacities and ways in which we resemble God – such as the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, creativity in all forms of arts – as representatives of God on earth to rule on His behalf – to establish relationship with God and with others, and with the rest of the creation. The center of the image of God is not characteristics like the ability to reason and make decision but that which was central to Christ’s life – love for God and for man – if Christ is the perfect image of God (Col 1:15), then the heart of that image is love (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18). This image is not lost (as some think) though corrupted and tarnished (Gen 5:1, 3; 9:6; James 3:9) – fallen man is still an image-bearer of God (even Hitler!) – REDEMPTION
Another important truth to notice here is that it is both the man and the woman that is created in the image of God. This image and dignity apply to both genders. “Adam” here is a generic term for mankind, not a personal name or man as distinct from woman, rather humankind as distinct from non-human creatures – mankind as either male or female or as both male and female. Genders are God’s good intentions for mankind. Men are not superior to women as taught and practiced in many cultures and religions. This should change our perspective on marriage and how we relate to women in our families and society. There only a functional difference between the two, not an ontological difference. Sad to see in today’s media world where women are often portrayed as mere objects of sex.
The fact that mankind is created in God’s own image is the most fundamental truth of Christian anthropology. It means that there is not only equality between man and woman in terms of their being but also among all humans. People of all religions, castes, and ethnicity are to be respected and treated without any distinction based on caste, creed, and socio-economic status. It is sad to see that even many Christians often fall prey to such ungodly practices thinking of unbelievers as not being in God’s image. God made all humans in His image whether a believer or an unbeliever.
Value and protect human life because people are created in God’s own image – selective abortion and euthanasia (mercy killing) are to be opposed and forbidden. Laws to preserve human life. Respect yourself – no matter how I look – whether tall or short – black or brown or white – big nose or flat nose – thin or fat – you are still in the image of God – his precious and unique creation – you have no right to kill or destroy your own body (substance abuse!) because I destroy what God has made – his image!
Lastly, we are not only created by God as good and in His image but …
We are created with a purpose (vv. 26, 28-30)
The Mesopotamian belief was that gods made mankind as mere slaves to serve them. According to evolution, there is no one ultimate or set purpose of life but we make our own purpose since we happened out of an accident and with no planning. What do you live for? What is the purpose of your existence?
Our text, right here at the beginning of our creation, informs us of the purpose of our existence. WSC 1 beautifully summarizes it – the chief end of man – to glorify and enjoy him – In fact, we can divide it into two:
God made us have fellowship with Him – i.e. to enjoy Him – we enjoy God when we know Him personally and have fellowship with Him – This means that our hearts will never be satisfied until and unless we know our God personally and have fellowship with Him. Do you know God personally? Or only know about Him? How do I know that I know God? Do you find delight in God? One of the ways to check it is by asking – do I enjoy worshiping Him? do you enjoy reading His word and praying to Him?
Secondly, as our text clearly shows, God made us have dominion over the created world, to multiply and be fruitful – he created us to work and to be good stewards of His world – work is good – subdue the earth – we are God’s stewards on earth – taking care of the world is our responsibility – using its resources responsibly – we glorify God when we responsibly look after this world as His representatives.
This would also change our perspective on how we use the world’s resources – privilege to subdue the earth, to have dominion, and to be fruitful and multiply also brings serious responsibility on our shoulders.
It means that when we are to be fruitful and multiply (establish families), to raise God-fearing and God-honoring families that will know Him and worship Him. PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO MARRY FOR CARREER’s sake – no kids because they are a hurdle or liability – modern culture is in danger!
When we are called to have dominion over the created worlds and subdue (bringing under control or subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it), it means humans are to develop and investigate to make the earth’s resources beneficial to humanity. Wise scientific and technological development is good but is not to exploit the earth and destroy it.
The command to rule every living thing is not to exploit the earth and its creatures to satisfy human greed but to responsibly care and govern over which God has appointed mankind as ruler. Being a steward of God’s world means, we need to be concerned about the environment and do what we can to protect and preserve it.
“Our King’s dominion must include all of creation, and for that reason, all orders and kingdoms in creation must be saved from the oppression under which they now groan.” Abraham Kuyper