April 5, 2004

A Son In God’s Image

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In Genesis 1:26, prior to creating man, God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” Contrary to the fanciful ideas of some that God is speaking here to the angels or that he is using a “plural of majesty,” the text of Scripture indicates that there is a sense in which the one God is also many.

After all, the angels aren’t mentioned anywhere in this chapter, nor does the Bible ever say that man is made in the image of the angels. Rather, we read that God created man in his (singular) image (Gen. 1:27). Furthermore, when God speaks to man in verse 29, he doesn’t use a “plural of majesty”: he says, “I have given you every herb….” But earlier in this chapter, we have heard about “the Spirit of God,” hovering like a mother bird over the waters. The chapter itself indicates that there is some plurality in God, and the rest of Scripture makes it clear. Genesis 1:26 is an agreement between the Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit.

But why is it here in Genesis 1? God does not speak in this way before creating the animals, and therefore this statement distinguishes the creation of man from the creation of the animals. But what does it say about man?

It seems to me that this intratrinitarian resolution indicates that man, unlike the animals, is created in a special relationship to God. The agreement has to do with creating man in God’s image, according to his likeness, and giving man dominion over the animals. The man is therefore to be God’s representative and God’s vice-gerent.

But it seems to me that more can be said if we think about man as the image of God and the ways in which man reflects God. In verse 27, we are told that “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

That last line is significant. There’s a sense in which each person, male or female, is created in God’s image. Every person is designed to reflect and represent God.

But God didn’t create a single individual here; he created a community. As Rich Lusk writes in an essay with the provocative title “God is Not Enough: The Story of Christian Community” (Auburn Analecta, 10.2),

This is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. God is not a single individual. He is a community of three distinct persons, bound together in oneness of love and fellowship. For man to image this kind of God required a plurality of humans in fellowship with one another” (pp. 1-2).

But it’s not just that God creates a plurality of people. He could have created a bunch of guys who could hang out together and work on projects together.

But he didn’t. Instead, he created a man and a woman whom he would unite in marriage (Gen. 2:18-24). That diversity is important. As we see in 1:26, God is both one and many. He is three distinct persons. And so he creates man in a way that reflects both his unity and his diversity. He creates man, but he creates male and female, and then he brings the man and woman together in the bond of marriage so that these two very different sorts of people are one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

So every individual is himself created in God’s image. But being in the image of God includes community. And more specifically, it includes marriage. The unity of husband and wife in a bond of love is a creaturely imaging of the covenantal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But we can go further. That bond of love is expressed in the two becoming “one flesh.”

Now there’s an important sense in which a husband and wife are one flesh, joined in marriage, even apart from any sexual union. If, for instance, an accident rendered a man physically incapable of having sexual relations, that wouldn’t mean that he could never really get married or be “one flesh” with his wife. If he and she have taken wedding vows, if they have gone through the ritual of marriage, God has joined them together and let no man put them asunder.

But normally the marriage bond is consummated through sexual union in which a man is physically “joined to his wife” and in which they become “one flesh” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:16). That union, though it can be perverted by sin, was designed by God, it seems to me, to reflect the union and communion (perichoresis, if you want the theological term) between the Father, Son, and Spirit — the very union which comes to expression when God says “Let us make man in our image, according to ourlikeness.

And from that sexual union come children, children who are in the likeness of their father. That’s what we see in Genesis 5:

In the day that God created man [adam, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them “man” [adam] in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image…. (Gen. 5:1-3).

And now, I think, we can put a few things together. The union between man and wife in which the man is joined to his wife and the two become one flesh — that union which is expressed in sexual union and which leads to the birth of children in the image and likeness of their father — is part of how we image God. And here in Genesis 1:26, we see the persons of the Trinity coming together, uniting, agreeing together. And in that intratrinitarian union and communion, God creates man in his own image, according to his likeness, male and female so that man can image him in his unity and diversity and particularly through sexual union between husband and wife, a union from which come children in man’s image.

Or, to put it another way: What is the significance of the intratrinitarian resolution in Genesis 1:26? What does it say about Adam? It implies that he is God’s son (Luke 3:38), “born” out of the bond of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, designed to represent his Father in his rule over creation and in his relationships, and especially in fruitful marital union.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:22 am | Discuss (0)

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