“Mysterious Being Creates the World in 7 Days, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!” That’s what I imagine the headline for Genesis, the first book of the Bible, would be if it was written in the digital age.
In the Beginning God Created
All good stories have a great hook, which sets the tone or scene for what happens next. The Bible is no exception. It opens, rather creatively, with what seems like an outrageous claim—that God whipped up the universe out of a shapeless, empty void—the first five words tell us something significant: they introduce God as a creative being. “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1).
The next few paragraphs demonstrate this characteristic of God by describing how ridiculously imaginative he is, making sky, land, and sea, vegetation and wildlife. I mean, have you seen a jellyfish? It’s a strangely captivating brainless pound of flesh.
But all that was just a warm up. The story gets more interesting when God decides to create humanity and specifically set us apart from all other creatures.
In the Beginning God Related
“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us, he said. “They will reign over the fish and sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).
This verse provides one more significant detail. If you notice in the quote above, God is not alone. Religious scholars and biblical commentators debate who God is referring to when he says “us.” Some conclude the writer of this passage is quoting God using the “royal we” (the plural pronoun referring to someone in high standing). Others speculate he’s speaking to the angels and other heavenly beings. Another commonly held interpretation is God is referring to himself as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a divine trio of distinct yet interrelated beings. No matter the interpretation, it sets up an idea that God is a relational being, which we see as we read further into this chapter as he talks to Adam and creates a counterpart for him (Eve), and as we examine some of the pillars of faith throughout the Bible: Abraham, Joseph, King David, Paul, and Jesus Christ.
Any curious reader might wonder, Why are these particular details worth mentioning? What is God trying to tell us? Why is it so significant that we are made in his image (his likeness or reflection), and what the heck does that even mean?
The Story of Us
This is the story of us—of God and his relationship with humanity. While the rest of the story unfolds throughout the Bible, and throughout our lives, we learn here that God is creative and he’s relational. And we were made to be like him.
Unlike other creatures, we possess a moral consciousness, an understanding of emotion and beauty, the ability to think abstractly, and an enhanced capacity to worship a higher being—attributes that flow out of creativity and into relationship. Attributes that are part of what has driven every advancement and achievement throughout history. This starts when Adam tended and cultivated the garden he called home (Genesis 2:15). When God granted Adam the creative freedom to name the animals (2:19). When Eve was created out of Adam (2:23–25). And when, together, Adam and Eve created new human life (4:1–2).
Even if you’re not into divine creation, you could agree that creative energy and the relational desire to preserve our kin has enabled us to survive, motivating us to build shelter in changing climates, find food when resource were limited, develop weapons to protect against predators. It motivates men and women towards advancement in medicine and technology. It drives artists to create masterpieces and philosophers to find meaning in life’s complexities.
In the End, He First Loved Us
Still you might be wondering, Why does any of this matter? Like any great story, there’s a crucial event that drives the main action of the story. In story-speak it’s called an “inciting incident,” and it actually happens over and over again throughout the Bible—humanity makes a mess of things. In Genesis, Adam and Eve sinned. They were given free choice and decided to disobey God’s one instruction. By consequence, they were separated from God’s relational presence. Oh yeah, and a bunch of really bad stuff has happened since then.
We’re pretty good at twisting and skewing good things and then passing the blame onto someone or something else (Genesis 3). And while God could have just wiped out humanity and started over right then, he didn’t. Over and over he saves us from ourselves, so we can find our way back into relationship with him. Because there’s a greater arc to this story—one that flows out of creativity and into relationship: the transformational power of undeserved grace and a love that always perseveres. A story tangibly demonstrated through the life and death of Jesus Christ, who shows us who God is, how he loves us, and what he calls us to do with that legacy of love.
And isn’t this the kind of story we all want to live into: to know even if we mess up we can be forgiven and loved? That’s the stuff of healing and redemption. And isn’t this the kind of story we aspire live out: to be wounded healers who extend grace and understanding, because we know how good it is for our own souls to receive it? I like how John, one of Jesus’s followers, puts it: “First we are loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:19b MSG). He continues, “The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:21b, MSG).
Spoiler alert: this is what it means to be created in the image of God. This biblical revelation isn’t just “shocking” or “amazing,” it’s life changing.