Summary: God's desire for us is to have relationships where we are accepted, supported, have significance and purpose.
Working the Garden: Interdependent Foundations and Recovering the Image of God
Series: Doing Life: Relationship Skills from the Bible for Today
April 25, 2010
Last week I introduced our new series topic which will take us until June, which I’ve decided to call “Doing Life: Relationship Skills from the Bible for Today”. The basis is that if we are to experience the kind of life that Jesus desires for us, the “life abundant” of John 10:10, then we have to be in healthy relationships with God and with others. When we study Scripture, we see a lot of teaching about relationships; their importance, ways to be in relationships in healthy and unhealthy ways, even direct commandments about how we are to live together. I really believe that at the heart of Scripture and at the heart of God’s desire for us is a network of relationships in which we know acceptance, support, purpose, significance, and the joy of experiencing the positive impact that our lives can have on others. But how do we get there? That is what we are going to look at together for the next little while…
Let’s take a look at some foundations first, going way back to Genesis 1:26-27: “26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
The very first thing to notice in the first verse is that God is not an individual. God doesn’t say “I’M going to make human beings like ME”, God says “Let US make human beings in OUR image, to be like US”. This is a critical foundation – God exists in relationship, and then creates humanity in that image. It sounds simple, but it is actually incredibly significant and incredibly profound. This is one of the basis for our understanding of the whole idea of God as three Persons in One, and our whole understanding next that for these three Persons to be One God there must be complete unity, interdependence, harmony, cooperation, and above all a love that is all the best that we can hope to imagine. God exists in relationship. And then we follow that with our understanding that God created us in that image… in other words, God created us to exist in that same context of unity, interdependence, harmony, cooperation, and above all a love that is the best we can hope to imagine. THAT, my friends, is what we were created for, and that is what verse 27 makes clear to us. This verse of Hebrew poetry puts “the image of God” in parallel with “male and female”, which tells us that God sees these two things as deeply inter-connected.
Now, I am not going to get diverted into a lengthily theological discussion on what the “image of God” actually is – this has been a long running topic of interest among academics which has enjoyed a resurgence recently as the church recognizes a shift from the centre of our culture to the margins, and so attempts to re-establish our mission and ultimate purpose as people which gets brought back to recapturing the “image of God”. If you are interested in that type of intellectual pursuit, I wholeheartedly encourage you. But for today, let’s simply take the verse at what it says – the “image of God” is deeply interconnected with the idea of “male and female”, which at the very least (most simple) means it is about relationship and not about anything individual.
There is one more point to be made here before moving on. This idea of relationship as the very essence of God and us as created in God’s image completely reverses the main message of the culture you and I live in. When I look around, virtually every message I see has, at its root, “me”. It is all about me, all for me, I am the centre, and it all exists to make me happy, me beautiful, me successful, me fulfilled, me rich, me admired, and on and on and on. The loudest message of our culture is that “I” must take care of “me” and get “my” needs met so “I” can be the best “me” “I” can be. As if that is the road to the most full life. I even see that in a lot of contemporary Christian culture and writing: I have a book on my shelf, given to me years ago, a “#1 New York Times Bestseller”, which I haven’t read so indeed I am “judging a book by its cover” (forgive me!), entitled “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential”, by an American pastor named Joel Osteen. He has a reputation for dabbling in the “health and wealth” gospel, which simply proclaims that God really wants us all to be healthy and wealthy and we will be if we just have enough faith. Even the title is “all about me” – and the “7 Steps” are “enlarging MY vision”; “developing a healthy self-image”; “discovering the power of MY thoughts and words”; “letting go of MY past”; “ finding strength through adversity (in MY life)”; “living to give” which sounded others-centered until I dug a little deeper and found that it was really about all the benefits to ME when I give; and “choosing to be happy”. Now maybe you’ve read it and found it helpful, I’m sure there is some good stuff in the book, but look at the overall theme – the message is one of individualism. The message of Gen. 1:27 is not a message of individualism – “I” (as an individual) am not the image of God; “We” as people in relationship are the image of God.