Each one of us must utilize two categories when considering all the possible information we could know: that which is essential, and that which isn’t. While the distinction is simple, deciding what information belongs where, is not. It may be exceedingly difficult for us to recognize extraneous information when we face it, and the problem is compounded when we consider the highly subjective nature of the decision itself; not only in our own worldview, but the same information can be variously essential and non-essential depending on the viewpoint of the observer.
One of the beautiful aspects of holy scripture is that God has given us his personal revelation in written form, and we don’t have to discern what part of it is essential or not, because God does nothing in vain (Eph 1:11) This leads us to understand that nothing God reveals to us is in vain, whether in scripture or in nature. While not all things are revealed to all people, all truth is ultimately God’s truth, because God is truth (John 14:16) Knowing then that all scripture is comprised of not only truth, but necessary truth, we should be diligent to read, study, and learn from God’s word.
Left for us then is this question to ask ourselves when reading any passage of scripture: Why is this necessary information?
Don’t be misled, there are certainly parts of scripture that have confounded some of the greatest minds in the history of the church, but this doesn’t reflect negatively on the relevance of scripture, but rather is a clear reflection of the sinful nature of man. A failure to understand any part of scripture does not level accusation against God, but against man. God commands us to worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), therefore any deviation from the truth in our worship is sin, and God will one day hold us accountable. We should strive at all costs to come to the fullest understanding of the truth of scripture that we can, knowing with each new insight we come one step closer to the truth as God intended for us to know it.
The account of Adam and Eve is a good example, not only of truth in the bible, as set against the alternative hypotheses of the secular world, but also as facts that serve to reveal multiple facets of truth about different topics, all directly derived from scripture.
We learn from the book of Genesis that when God created man, he created them in his image, male and female (Gen 1:27). This simple fact can lead us into an abundance of insight and revelation of scriptural knowledge about both God, and ourselves. We can first begin by understanding what it means to be made in the ‘image’ of God. When studying particular words or phrases in the bible, it is useful to find out other places they are used in scripture and how they are used in those contexts, to attempt to shed any light on the section under investigation. Usually, it is a mistake to assume one usage directly dictates another, but rather let the whole biblical counsel of God serve as the guide in our interpretation. In this case, we have one other significant usage of this phrase that will shed some light, and that is in the book of Hebrews.
In the first chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author is giving a brief outline of the history of God’s revelation to his people, as well as the foundational scriptures to underscore the role of Christ as the fullness of his revelation, the manifestation of his glory. In verse 5 we read that Christ is ‘the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person’. This is no casual observation, as any Jew at the time could tell you. The Hebrews being addressed here are intimately familiar with the Old Testament scriptures, and are well aware of the prohibitions against any form of idolatry. Moreover, the people of Israel have a long and bloody history of fighting against the idolatries of the surrounding nations, including the current occupation of the Romans, as well as the internal struggle against idolatry among their own people. From the golden calf at Mount Sinai, to the accursed thing of Achan, to the Babylonian erection of the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar, and the seemingly endless accounts of the establishment, and subsequent destruction of multitudes of high places and groves throughout the land of Judah and Ephraim.
Having such a close relationship to the concept of idolatry vs true worship, it would be shocking, if not considered blasphemous, that anybody would make the claim that a man was the ‘express image’ of God the Father. This phrase, which uses the Greek term charact?r, is akin to the idea of being engraved, or a stamped copy of something, an exact duplicate. Historically, this would be used to describe how royalty would give authorization of a decree or law by the imprint in wax of a royal seal, perhaps a ring or signet with the official seal on it. This level of similarity being asserted between the incarnation of Christ and God the Father is a far different idea than that described in Genesis between God and man. Christ is God, and therefore his incarnate state serves as the express image of God the Father. If one were to ask what God would look like if he became a man, the answer is Jesus Christ. We can be certain that as not only the flesh and blood representative of God, but the actual representation of God, Christ bears in himself a far different form of ‘imagery’ than we do as stated in Genesis.
So, what is the nature of the ‘image’ that Adam is said to represent? Using the idea of imaging God in ourselves, we can deduce from scripture what characteristics of man are indeed representative of his creator, as well as to what degree.
We know that God is personal; he does not simply create, then abstain from all interaction with his creation. The bible shows us over and over again that God deigns to lower himself to the level of his creatures in order to interact with them in time (Luk 12:24, Psa 8:4, Gen 12:1, Luk 19:10). Moreover, creation itself testifies to the personal nature of our Creator, in that he chose to create at all. The age-old question asked by many philosophers and dejected teenagers, that of why are we here, why is there anything at all? is answered in God. Because he chose to create, is why we are here. By his will and desire we are created, and indeed take every breath by his perfect counsel until the day when he calls us all to account. This act of creation, which in no way increased the glory of God, nor contributed in anyway to fulfil that which was lacking in God, was a personal decision made by him that shows us his personal nature, in addition to his interaction with and revelation to man throughout history.
This personal nature is one we can see in ourselves, though as Paul says ‘through a glass, darkly’. We all operate in a personal reality, one where the individuality of our existence is inescapable, while we recognize the fundamental need for personal decisions and choices in order to effect those things we intend. Having an understanding of the liberty we possess in our daily actions and choices should enable us to more clearly see the magnitude of the grace of God in his choice to create. Knowing that he could easily have discarded the very thought of creation, like so many trivialities in our own lives, but instead began everything, set the earth on its pillars and the stars in the heavens, only to finally, and graciously, create man himself, is cause for unending worship on its own.
Secondly, we know that God is relational. Again, we have various distinctions of this disclosed to us in scripture. God relates to man in his revelation to him throughout redemptive history. Abraham did not have to wonder if there was any final reward for man after his life was over, he received the firsthand evidence from God himself, in the form of verbal and visual affirmations as well as promises to him and his posterity. Beyond this, God of course spoke to man in sundry times and divers manners (Heb 1:1) through his holy prophets and apostles (Eph 3:5). Finally, God gave us his greatest revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of God. The incarnation was an opportunity for men to commune with their Creator in a way never before made available, in the from of a man who would literally sit and talk with them, reason with them, and every word be from the very mouth of God. Of course, we see in the gospels that even the most devout of apostles that walked with Jesus were quite blind to the true magnitude of the situation until after Christ had risen and shown himself to them. Nevertheless, it was a personal revelation and relationship with God that has no parallel in any other period of history.
We may recognize in ourselves the same relational characteristics that scripture reveals about God. This is not to say that we have the same level, or depth of relationship as God, nor do we possess relationships with the same people. What we can say is that we hold to a most imperfect form of God’s ideal of relational interaction. We choose to engage in relationships with others, but it ultimately comes from a real need for connection with those outside of ourselves. God deals in relationships because he is perfect, we do it because we are made in his image, and we feel the need to express that divine nature, to fulfill those deficiencies we feel within ourselves, even if we are unable to define their source or nature.
Our relationships look much different than those of God. We sometimes get angry and lose our temper, or say something we didn’t mean to, or even hurt each other and cause great pain and sorrow. Meanwhile, God the Father is in perfect, eternal unity with the Son and the Holy Spirit. One member of the Godhead never lets down another; the Spirit of God is never disappointed in the Son; the Father never has to argue his point with the other members of the Godhead. Additionally, even when interacting with his creation, God does so to the utmost fulfillment of His perfect will. When God told Abraham that he would bless him and make his seed as numerous as the stars in the sky, he did it knowing full well that later he would have to answer Abraham’s question: what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless? God does not play off his back foot when dealing with mankind (or anything else, for that matter) but is always executing his plan in perfect harmony with the will of the entire trinity.
Human relationships have their shortcomings, and all of these can be attributed to the saturation of our every effort by the injurious effects of sin. When we love, it is in sin. When we hate, it is in sin. Our every thought, deed, and emotion is tainted by the presence of sin (Isa 64:6, Rom 3:23, Eph 2:1). What we can know about divine relationships, and our position as image-bearers of them, is that although sinful in every regard, we manage to portray a shadow of those heavenly things whereby God illumines us through his word. When we love the most, when we are the most charitable, the most giving, the most merciful; when no other possible addition can be made in our eyes to increase the glory before us in our greatest of human relationships; when we perceive no other level of perfection can even be conceived of in our unity with another human, we give a glimpse of the divine. We begin, just around the edges, to show forth the most miniscule evidence of divine unity, of the perfect and holy union between the members of the Godhead. At our best, we can never attain to any actual comparison to the Lord, but we gain a fleeting vision, a brief interlude from corruption, when we view the type of glory that is possible in a loving, gracious, and merciful relationship with Almighty God.
Understanding our role as image-bearers of God, we should be both rejoicing and humbled. The former for the revelation of our glorious Father in his abundant perfections and righteousness, and the latter for our constant failure to competently execute the office, which itself is faithfully and perfectly atoned for by the death of our beloved savior Jesus Christ.