Human beings are made in the image of God.
This is one of the most familiar notions of Christian thought, something we’re taught as children. God made you in his image. God made you to be like him.
One of my professors offered a really beautiful way to look at this: think of it like a mirror. We are a mirror image of God, but only when we are turned toward him. The minute we turn away, we are no longer in his image. In the language of Genesis, God makes everything to flourish. God sees that it was good. God nourishes, sustains, loves. We are his appointed stewards of the earth, the ones he delegated to rule over it. If by our behavior we are eliminating species of animals, we are no longer in the image of God. Because God makes everything to flourish, and our behavior makes everything to die.
What’s more is that our arrogance isn’t even biblically rooted. We were indeed given God’s decree to care and perhaps rule, but we weren’t spun from the divine. One of my professor’s was the primary Genesis translator for the Common English Bible, a new translation, and explained Genesis 2:7 thus:
Here’s the NRSV translation: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
Now, “dust of the ground” permeates our church language. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. But my professor explained that the Hebrew words in this passage are used in agricultural contexts in the rest of the bible and thus better translate to “topsoil of the fertile land.”
God didn’t make us from dust or dirt. God made us from soil, fertile and abundant soil, the very substance from which earth gives life. We are of the earth and we are grounds for growth, for nourishment, for feeding and sustaining the rest of creation. Isn’t that beautiful?
Let me take it a step further. My professor also offered Genesis 2:19, where the man, Adam, calls the animals to him.
A segment from NRSV: “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was its name.”
The same segment from CEB: “The human gave each living being its name.”
Now let me explain this translation. In Genesis 2:7, man becomes a “living being” when God breathes life into his nostrils. The Hebrew word in that verse, the one that becomes “living being,” is the same word as Genesis 2:19 that we commonly translate to living creature. In the original Hebrew, human beings and animals are described using the exact same word in these two verses of the creation story. We are living beings. This previous translation set us above the animals with a different word, essentially tricking us into difference (at least from my rather bitter perspective). Isn’t that… kind of annoying?
So we come from the soil, the earth. We are living beings much like the animals. But we are in the image of God when we face him, when we look toward him, when we see that the natural world is good and we make it to flourish. That’s what sets us apart, it seems: the intention. Turning deliberately toward God and taking his values into our hands, spreading his love to the four-legged and green-leaved alike.
But we pollute the earth. We make our meals from animals who were battered and tortured and disrespected. We generate more garbage than the earth can hold. We bulldoze acres of rainforest to make room for our own interests. We consume consume consume and turn a blind eye as the earth suffers for it. We have turned away from God’s image. We are no longer facing him.
I am no longer facing him. I am convicted.
What do you think about this?