In the last post I argued that the image of God builds off the idea of “representational presence.” To be created in the image of God means to be the ones through whom God manifests his own presence in the world.
That’s pretty heady stuff. We don’t just “mirror” God through some attribute we possess (e.g. rationality), but we humans are the means by which God has chosen to manifest his presence in creation. He does this in other ways, of course, but apparently there’s something special about the way in which he has chosen to manifest his presence through us. That’s what makes us image bearers.
But what exactly does that mean? If God is present everywhere, then he’s present in a poodle (hard as that might be to believe). But we don’t say that poodles are in the image of God. (Please, oh please, don’t say that. You’ll create instant atheists.) So what is it about God’s “presence” with humans that makes us image bearers?
I think the key is that the kind of presence God manifests through his people is his personal presence. Let me unpack that a bit.
1. And God said…
God made the sun, and it was good. He made land, and it was good. He made animals, and they were good too. He made humans…and he blessed them, and he spoke to them.
Right at the beginning of the story, you see that something different is going on here. Unlike all his other creations, God chooses to engage this creature in personal relationship.
Now I suppose it’s possible that God is like the crazy old lady who talks to her plants and her cats all the time. Maybe the fact that God speaks to humans doesn’t really say anything significant about humans. Maybe. But I don’t think so.
2. And the Lord Commanded…
I hate to sound mean, but I don’t really care what some people do. You probably don’t either. It’s a simple fact of life. We all have different kinds of relationships in our lives, and many of them can be measured by whether we have any real interest in what the other person does.
Thus, I care deeply what my children do. We spend a lot of time talking about what they should and shouldn’t do. And that’s because those are very close and important relationships to me. My neighbor is a little different. I am still interested in what he does. For example, I’d prefer it if he stopped mowing his lawn every freaking time I sit down outside and try to read my book. And I’d be concerned if he started cheating on his wife. But it’s still a bit more removed than the concern I have for what my children do. The person next to me at the coffee shop? Even more removed. Now I just care that he doesn’t speak to me. Ever. And so it goes. The more distant the relationship, the less direct concern you have for what they do.
“And the Lord commanded….” God doesn’t just speak to humans, he commands them. This isn’t some distant relationship where God has little concern for what they do. This is a direct, meaningful relationship. One with expectations. A personal relationship.
3. Not Good!
So it seems pretty clear that we’re not just talking about any kind of presence. Technically my desk and I are present to each other. But I don’t generally speak to my desk and give it commands that express expectations. (Granted, that’s not always true. But only because I sometimes bang my leg on the corner. Since that is clearly my desk’s fault, I then find it necessary to explain to my desk that this is inappropriate behavior that needs to stop.) God and Adam, on the other hand, had precisely this kind of relationship, the kind that involves real, personal presence.
And it was “not good.”
That seems weird. It’s hard to imagine what could possibly be better than a real, personal relationship with God himself. But God had something more in mind, something that went beyond the God/human relationship alone.
4. Even an Elephant Isn’t Enough
So we get to the part of the story where God parades all the animals past Adam to see what he thinks. I love this part. I always try to picture Adam’s reaction to each animal. Lion, very cool. Komodo dragon, nice! Elephant, weird nose but still pretty neat. Chihuahua, what the….?
But we all know how it works out. Adam gets to the end of the line, and he still hasn’t found an animal who will make things “good.” He’s still alone. And the shape of the story clearly suggests that God has something in mind that can’t be accomplished through the Adam/God or Adam/animal relationships. Why not? Those are pretty cool relationships.
The solution doesn’t come until we get to Eve. But what makes this the solution? First, although the woman does not speak in the narrative, this is obviously a personal relationship. So it’s different than the human/animal relationship. But second, Eve is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” So, unlike the divine/human relationship, this is a relationship between two persons that share the same nature.
The climax of the creation account, then, is not the bare fact of humanity’s creation, or even humanity’s status as rulers/caretakers of creation. Instead, the narrative culminates with the creation of human relationship, with the coming together of the two who are same-yet-different in personal relationship. And that’s what God was after.
So, if God was seeking to manifest his presence through the creation of humans, then it seems pretty clear that he was after a very particular kind of presence. It’s not the kind of presence that I have with my desk, even though I’m right next to it. And it’s not the presence that you might have with your dog, even though you might be very fond of your dog. It’s not even just the kind of presence that you see in the ancient near eastern idea that a king represents/manifests the presence of some divine being. This goes further. Now we have personal presence manifested in a meaningful relationships between two beings who are same-yet-different.