What are human beings that you think about them; What are human beings that you pay attention to them? Psalm 8:4, CEB
I’ve noticed an alarming trend lately in Christian culture as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be human. There seem to be two distinct viewpoints vying for our attention as we daily struggle with understanding our value and place in this life. The polarizing sides would have us believe that we are either the most wretched beings that have ever existed and are desperately devoid of any good or we are the good and most glorious work of the Creator and can do no wretched thing. Notice I used the word polarizing, for that seems to be the trend in our culture—to choose an opposing side, one at the most extreme from the other, and set up a philosophy that supports our beliefs. It is to our benefit then to seek understanding for the answer to the Psalmist’s question of who we are that God should even think of us at all!
Image of God
Our examination of why humanity matters to God begins with His creation of all things. The first chapter of Genesis gives us an overview of God’s work of creation with humanity as its crowning glory. It is from this passage that we first see how humanity, man and woman, are created in the image of God.
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Genesis 1:26-28, CEB
In Genesis 1:26 God declares that he will create humanity “in our image to resemble us.” These two words (image and likeness) in Hebrew are tselem (image) and damuth (likeness or semblance). Tselem comes from the root meaning “to cut” and “indicates that man images God, that is, is a representation of God.” Damuth is from the root meaning “to be like” and “indicates that the image is also a likeness…[and] together tell us that man is a representation of God who is like God in certain respects.”
These two words show how God created humanity to reflect and represent His person and essence to the world. It highlights that there is a structural aspect to God’s image in humanity and there is a functional aspect. Humanity is the image of God and humanity does the image of God. At the same time, these words clearly distinguish between humanity and God—God is God; humanity is the reflection that best displays God’s likeness the closer we are in relationship with Him. Also, they separate the reflection from the thing itself and show that humanity cannot completely claim the qualities and attributes that only God possesses.
The unique aspect of God’s image in humanity made us suitable beyond all the rest of creation for displaying, or reflecting, the glory of God in the earth. This is interesting considering the Ten Commandments since God forbade the Hebrews to create an image (or idol) of God—God had already created His perfect image, by His own hand, in humanity. This uniqueness means that when humanity is fully functioning as God intended at creation, others should be able to see God in us!
Humanity also represents God on earth. Not only in our natural, material existence does humanity represent God, but in conscious volition and action, humanity can present God again and again to the world. In right relationship with God, humanity operates out of God’s will and under His authority to bring His domain into being upon the earth and among individuals. “In us people should be able to encounter God, to hear his word, and to experience his love.”
So, “human identity is dependent upon God, and God‘s way of being shapes that identity holistically.” God shaped humanity and determined our value because He imbued us with His very likeness. The shape and action of humanity are like unto God without being God. And yet something happened in Genesis 3 which caused humanity to miss the mark God had set in Genesis 1:26-28—the course God had charted for humanity suddenly shifted.
Missing the Mark
Genesis 3 provides a record of where humanity got off track. Unfortunately, many scholars treat this passage as if it were mythology. After all, animals can’t speak, can they? Therefore, this must really be a fairy tale, just a story with a moral lesson, or an allegorical lesson like Aesop’s fables, right? However, if we desire to understand the biblical narrative and what being human truly means, then I must shout a resounding “No!” without hesitation. So, for the sake of understanding, let us treat this as much like a historical narrative as we do much of the rest of the Old Testament.
At the beginning of Genesis 3, we meet the serpent who was “more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made” (Gen 3:1, NASB). This creature approached Eve and asked if it was true that God had instructed humanity to “not eat from any tree of the garden” (Gen 3:2, NASB). Eve clarified that humanity was free to eat from any tree except for the one in the middle of the garden which they could not eat or touch (Gen 3:3).
And here is where we really start to get in trouble. In Genesis 2:16-17, God put Adam in the garden before Eve was yet created and told him that he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or he would die. So, why did Eve tell the serpent they could not eat or touch the tree? Because Adam took God’s instructions which dealt with the heart issue of desire and created an addition to the directive in order to control behavior! Welcome to the first form of religion where outward behavior is considered of more worth than a correct heart attitude.
The serpent continued with his distortion of facts to convince Eve that she certainly wouldn’t die (Gen 3:4)—she was part of the crowning glory of God’s creation! Instead, he convinced Eve that if she ate the fruit her “eyes would be opened, and [she] would be like God” (Gen 3:5). Now, this is an interesting argument, since Adam and Eve were already created in God’s image and likeness—she was already like God and need nothing else!
Of course, we know the story. They ate the fruit. When God found them hiding in the bushes, they blamed each other or the serpent. But at the root of this whole story is how they missed the mark. They disobeyed God by eating the fruit. God in his infinite mercy spared both of their lives on that day although He would have been completely justified in maintaining the perfect, holy standard of intimate obedience they once enjoyed by immediately passing that death sentence. He even went a step further and mercilessly provided the sacrifice to clothe their nakedness (Gen 3:21) which is significant because without that sacrifice there could be no forgiveness of the disobedient and rebellious choice (Lev 17:11, Heb 9:22).
While God spared Adam and Eve (because He had a long-range plan for humanity), they were not free from the consequences of their choice. As a result of that one choice, their inner attitude toward God was permanently affected. Jeremiah 17:9 reveals that the heart of humanity is deceitful, and Isaiah 48:8 tells us that humanity is rebellious from birth. Unfortunately, this deceitful and rebellious heart attitude that was birth in Adam and Eve’s choice, precluded the same intimacy and physical proximity between God and humanity which existed before they ate the fruit. As a result, at the end of Genesis 3, God lays out the consequences for Adam and Eve’s rebellious actions in the form of curses.
Consequences and Hope
First, the serpent was cursed for the role he played. God highlights the serpent as the archetype for all which opposes God—a symbol of the enemy’s kingdom which is in opposition to God. God declares that humanity will have “enmity” (hostility, antagonism, ill will, variance, and discord) with our enemy, the devil. Forever we will stand and be torn between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness yet with hope of a savior. God declared that there would come a time when one “shall bruise [the serpent] on the head, and [the serpent] shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3:15, NASB).
Second, humanity was cursed with pain, toil, and hard labor—both for women and men. Childbirth would be painful, and only hard toil would raise sustenance and food. No longer could humanity stay close to God in the garden and revel in the joy of ease and plenty (hence, the Jewish view of heaven has been the Garden of Eden). Instead, humanity’s delayed death sentence would come with hard work, decay, and a return to the dust from which we were first formed.
Finally, the earth was cursed because of humanity’s rebellion. The earth beyond Eden became hard to work. Instead of bearing a prolific bounty of plants for food and necessities, it was cursed to bear weeds, thistles, thorns, and brambles (Gen 3:18). The soil, instead of being fertile and productive, became hard to work and gave forth its produce parsimoniously.
All hope was not lost though these three consequences accrued to creation’s account. It was the promise of a savior in God’s declaration of enmity between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of the enemy which enabled Paul to so confidently write in Romans 5:12-21 (CEB) that even though “through one human being sin came into the world, …now the righteous requirements necessary for life are met for everyone through the righteous act of one person,” and that person is Jesus! In 1 Corinthians 15:20-24, Paul also writes that Adam is the root that brought death to humanity, and Jesus is the giver of life. Finally, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:13-21 that humanity is a new creation in Christ and we are restored to our original commission of reconciling the world, and all of creation, back to a right and righteous relationship with God. It is because Jesus became sin for us that we are able in Him to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21, CEB).
Therefore, we must realize that on this earth, we balance on the edge between light and dark only because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Because of His death, He made atonement once for all time (Rom 6:10), and we again have the ability to choose obedience or rebellion. It is because of who we are, humanity which is able in Christ to reflect and represent God to the world, that God is mindful of us at all. It is His great mercy that balances His ultimate holiness and truly gives us the choice of obedience or rebellion. And it is this choice that can change us from lifeless to living and which can change the world from wasteland to paradise. What will you choose?
You can read more here for a deeper scholarly treatment of the Image of God. I also recommend the Bible Project on YouTube as a great resource for simple, straightforward, scholarly, and entertaining videos on Scripture. This particular video addresses the biblical concept of sin and man’s fallen nature.
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 Anthony Hoekema. Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 13.
 Anthony Hoekema. Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 13.
 Anthony Hoekema. Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 68.
 Ryan Peterson, “The Imago Dei as Human Identity: A Theological Interpretation,” PhD diss., Wheaton College, 2010, 285, In Digital Theological Library.