After God had created the world and the creatures that dwell within it and “saw that it was good,” Genesis 1:25, we read next, Genesis 1:26, 27, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he him.” Man was made to be an image-bearer of God.
This whole matter of the image of God in man is important for any real understanding of human life. This is the design according to which man was made and the function which he was designed to fulfill. In doing this man’s life has meaning and harmony with the rest of creation; in not doing so he is a misfit and an irritation in the structure of the whole. The matter warrants serious consideration.
The words ‘likeness’ and ‘image’ indicate clearly that man was made to be a reflection of God to provide a revelation of His greatness and glory. In a sense, of course, all of creation is a revelation of the greatness of God; but the creation of man was something special. Only of him could it be said, Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Only to man was given a spiritual nature breathed in by a special impartation of the Holy Spirit.
In a sense what this might be taken to mean is that man was made with a rational, moral nature. Certainly even the materialistic evolutionist cannot escape the fact that man is uniquely different from all of the other creatures which inhabit this earth. He alone is able to think with his mind and to order his life according to moral choice. And yet this alone cannot constitute the image of God in man. Over and over again the sad history of this world has demonstrated how often man with all of his thinking and choosing has only ended up a pathetic caricature, a destroyer of repulsive ability, a reflection of the horror which is Satan rather than of the beauty which is God. Moral rationality may constitute a framework of potentiality; but it is not the image of God as such.
If we go further into the Scriptures, however, we do find more specifics about the nature of God’s image in man.
In II Corinthians 3:18 we have a beautiful statement by Paul, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Without trying to expound the text completely, there are a few things we may note. 1) To be in the image of God one must be reflecting like a glass or mirror the glory which comes forth from God. 2) In order to do this one must be beholding and open to the revelation of glory which comes from God. 3) It is a function which is possible only by the working of the Spirit of God.
Two other texts mentioning the image of God bring forth another element concerning the image of God. InEphesians 4:24 we read, “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” And in Colossians 3:10, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” In these texts knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness are designated as constituent parts of the image of God in man. These are moral virtues, the kind which have their source and only beginning in the Triune fellowship of God’s own covenant life. Within the divine Godhead Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell together in a fellowship of personal life out of which proceed all righteousness, holiness, and knowledge, not only, but love, mercy, justice and all of the moral virtues which shine forth in glory from the presence of Almighty God. And it is the function of man as His image bearer to reflect them to His glory.
All of this came out quite wonderfully in the life which man was made to live in Paradise.
“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. . . . And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. . . And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it,” Genesis 2:8-16.
Concerning the geographic shape of the world before the flood, we know very little. Certainly the face of this globe must have been so greatly affected by the abating waters of the flood that we can hardly even identify the primordial beds of those four great rivers which flowed from their sources in Paradise. But what the account does tell us is that this garden which God made for man was literally as well as figuratively the heart of creation from which the life of the whole world did flow. It was like a garden for earth’s king, in which he could dwell, and from which he could rule the ends of the world. From the garden the four great rivers brought life-giving waters to the four comers of the earth. In it in turn were represented every kind of tree (Gen. 2:9) and every kind of animal (Gen. 2:19). Within the limits of his own immediate environment man stood in direct contact with the whole expanse of God’s great and glorious creation.
In this man had his first and original occupation. We read, Genesis 2:15, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” To be sure it was not the kind of dressing and keeping of a garden as we might imagine in our day: Our world staggers under the burden of its curse in which all kinds of warring factions rage against each other and man can only strive to survive in the midst of them. But that world was different. In it was to be found a perfect natural balance testifying on every side of harmony and peace. And yet the creation needed a head, it needed a leader and a king to keep it and direct it as a chorus of glory to the praise of its Maker. Man was the interpreter of the creation and its spokesman through whom the praise of the whole world was brought to the Creator.
We have a small glimpse into this work of Adam inGenesis 2:19, “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”
This was the wonder of Adam in his original state of perfection. He possessed the grace of perfect perception. He could look upon each of the creatures with his eyes, he could listen to it with his ears, he could touch it with his hands, and with his mind he could perceive the word of God in it, that is to say, he was able to see and understand what was the place and function of that individual creature in the design and plan of God’s glorious creation. It thrilled him and filled his heart with joyful wonderment to watch as one after one all of these amazing expressions of God’s creative power were made to pass before him that he might see it all. Each complemented the other so that in the end they formed together one united whole, a cosmos, a universe which was in fact ‘very good.’
And this was not all. Not only could Adam perceive, he was also able to express the wonder which he saw before him. He was God’s image bearer which means that he was created with the ability to reflect or express the glory of God wherever he met it. For each of the animals he was able to find within his own mind a word that ferreted out and expressed the essential purpose of God in that particular creature. They were words which could serve as names which would give glory to God in each of His creatures. From Adam’s lips they poured forth one upon the other without effort or hesitation rising strain upon strain in an aria of joyful praise to the glory of God the Creator.
This was the place and function of man; for this God had made him; for this God had brought forth all the animals to pass before him; God would ‘see what he would call them’ that through man’ lips, His own glory which He had possessed within Himself from eternity might go forth in a chorus of rich praise and adoration, ‘O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.’
And yet, in spite of the beauty and perfection of it all, something was not right. Adam could feel it. He could see the wonder of God’s Word in creation and rejoice for it; he could lift up his voice in a song of praise before his Maker; but there was no one of his own kind and on his own level with whom he could share it. The animals passed two by two before him, male and female, in pairs together. God Himself existed in His tri-unity of persons with the resultant communion together. But Adam was alone.
Certainly it was with purpose that God created man in this way. He would impress upon man the importance and sanctity of marriage by first allowing him to taste life without it. Then God made for him the woman.
“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: who shall be called, Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed,” Genesis 2:21-25.
Clearly the thing that impressed Adam most of all was the unique oneness between him and his wife. They were of one bone and one flesh. As did none of the other creatures, they belonged together.
And the Scriptures also at this point take their opportunity to observe this as the institution of marriage in a way which emphasizes it to be a relationship stronger and more enduring than any other relationship among men, even than the relationship between parents and child. In fact, Jesus later takes up this same thing as an occasion for His conclusion,Matthew 19:6, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Moreover, this was the way in which it was realized in practice also, at least as long as sin did not interfere. We are told, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” The thought has none of the erotic overtones which we in our Freudian age are apt to place in this text. It simply recognizes the fact that the need for covering the body reflects the inner need which man has to hide within his own soul. It reflects the shame which prevents man from being truly open and honest with his fellow. But Adam and his wife had none of this. Their thoughts were pure and good, thoughts received from reading God’s Word written throughout the creation. There was no fear lest something thought should not be said because of the harm or offense it might inflict. Every thought could freely and fully be expressed; indeed, it was their joy to share their inmost lives completely together. The marriage of Adam and Eve was a covenant of fellowship and friendship reflecting the communion of God within His own triune being. It was the joy of perfect communion made complete.