Called. Imago Dei.
‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’
Romans 8: 19
‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’
This broken world has a story for me to live in. My scarred history has a story for me to live out. But what is the story that I was born to live?
The world has its ink and we are a page, and every stroke creates in us the script lines of our selves, a biography constructed by the words and actions of others: I am loved. I am unloved. I am capable. I’m a quitter. I am smart. I am dumb. I am beautiful. I am nothing… I am, I am, I am, I am. I am the result of a thousand words, ten thousand messages, twenty thousand looks, telling me who I am.
But who am I really?
Somewhere underneath the surrounding fog, deep within the sinews of my heart, is there a me that wasn’t formed by the words and actions of others? And what if not all their words were true all along? Am I then a living lie? How can I know it? How can I see it? When I am so steeped in myself that I cannot see myself?
What if these messages of others formed for me a script that I live out line by line, but the script is simply a reflection of someone else’s unfinished existence? How do I know who I am, if all I have to go on are the cracked-mirror words of other fractured human beings reflecting broken images back to me of my self?
Human words can be a frail foundation on which to build a life. But what is the alternative? Alternative words outside of humans naming our humanity?
In the beginning of all things and the genesis of us, there was a story being written for us. There were words spoken over us.
But not by human beings.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” Genesis 1:26
Genesis begins with the genesis of everything, everything large and small, endless and finite, all created simply with Gods word. All living creatures were created ‘according to their kind’ ‘according to their kind’ ‘according to their kind’…10 times… ‘according to their kind’.
When it came to us God paused and reached down into clay.
We were created differently.
To be different.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
Image of God. Imago Dei. Say it in every language you can speak and write in on every sinew of your heart, because this simple string of letters lines a truth as mysterious as the existence of us.
Today we read these words as if they were a normal thing to write, a normal thing to say. But there was nothing normal about these words. Not when they were written. Nor now when we read them.
Though today we often miss it, the original author and the original audience, they would have understood.
This just doesn’t happen. This way.
We don’t happen. This way.
The term ‘Image of God’ was used back then. Just not for us. Not for human beings born without royal blood. Only Kings or idols were given this title1. Ordinary people, well, they were just the staff, the workforce. Cogs in the system. ‘Image of God’ was an unmistakably royal title with royal connotations and to use it in this way was a threat to any status quo which raised wealth, privilege and power above the masses.
The breath God breathed into us names us Human. Names us honoured. Names us equal. Names us royal. Together.
This statement would have shocked the Ancient world. This statement shocks our world. Because for all our modernity, for all our rhetoric, we still live the script-line lie that we are not created equal- we raise some high while others dwell in dust.
And for God to bestow this title on both men and women equally, in that culture which viewed women as property, as less. It was unheard of. Unthinkable. Dangerous.
These words, this statement explodes with fiery light into the darkness of ancient world assumptions with a truth as radical as it is mysterious.
The mystery of us. The mystery of Him in us.
Image of God.
And these three small words, they don’t just name us, they describe us- the true us, underneath all the layering scars we have accumulated through a life lived forgetting our true name. God didn’t breathe a label or job title into our lungs. He breathed Himself. His nature. His heart. The shape of our breath is the shape of Him, because our breath was His gift to us, the gift of Himself, His life, His image, coded into our DNA. His breath in us that awakens us to ourselves.
The first mention of us, in all of scripture is here when God is naming us like Him. We are dust, but we are more. God breathed His own Breath, His own Spirit into us at the beginning of all things and we became different from every other creature on earth. We feel like we are made for more because we are made with more… more of God’s own breath, more of His likeness, more of His image.
The only adequate answer to the haunting, taunting ‘Who am I?’ identity questions we as human beings struggle with is; ‘I am a child of God’. That’s it. That’s all. We have never understood who we are, because we struggle to understand who He is.
I am a child of God. Say it. Hear it. Let it seep into your soul, like a song singing, like threads weaving, like springs restoring your heart to life. You are loved. You are seen. You are chosen. You are treasured. You are significant. You are beautiful. You are a child of God. That’s all. That’s it. That’s who you are.
Believing the script-line words we were raised in, the biography constructed by the words of others, we humans strain and drain ourselves in our search for validation, purpose, and self worth. So often we think that we need to do important things, jump through high hoops, achieve big successes for our lives to count, to be significant.
If only we could begin to comprehend (like a breath breathed out slow, like a learning to relax, like a learning to let go) that our true significance is not in what we achieve, in what we do, a legacy we leave, a job description describing us. Our true significance is in the unwavering, unfathomable fact that we are children of God.
God made it clear in the beginning that our value is not in the function we serve, but the person we resemble.
We are significant, not because we are stronger, larger or smarter than all other creatures on earth. We are significant because we have the God of the Universe’s breath in our lungs, the Being who made the spinning stars imprint in our hearts. We are God’s children, made in His image. We are loved, and we are also called. We are called to be ‘like God’ in this world. We are called to represent Him, His heart, His Kingdom on this earth. This earth beneath our feet.
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
So my daughter one day, she did this thing that I hold in my heart all these years later, and still it spills a smile across my face even now. It happened on the day I had sent her eight year old self outside to pick flowers for our table before a guest arrived. Solemnly she had slipped outside, scissors in hand, on her important mission. The task was soon accomplished, the vase was filled and I in my busyness noticed nothing awry.
It was later that night we noticed something missing, missing from the wisps around her small lightly freckled face. Where once wound wisps of chestnut and gold, now hung a tufted clump, an obvious absence of hair. Shyly she confessed. When she had gone out to accomplish her task of filling the vase that afternoon she had felt so sorry about taking from the flowers that she wanted to give them something in return. So she gave them part of herself, her hair, and in some ways her vanity too. So a small fistful of eight year old chestnut-gold hair now lies at the foot of the flower bushes in our garden and a warm memory of a child’s yearning to care for her world lies at the foot of my memory and the corners of my smile. And my daughter for the next few months walked around with a tuft of short hair in front, and still walks around today with a concern for the world all around her.
On one level, my daughters actions were strange, quirky even, in a gorgeous child-like kind of way. On another though, they reveal a heart-longing which was leaning in the right direction, the direction of the image of God within her, the direction of uninhibited care, responsibility and love for the world around her. She was being human. She was living out a calling that she probably couldn’t even name. A calling, planted deep, like a seed within her heart. A calling like a seed planted in all of us, but pushed away by life in the wrenching rat race. A calling that big business often fails to see, and globalised economic bottom lines are mindlessly blind to. A calling like an eternity in our human hearts which we have never understood. A calling to be fully human in this world.
We long for more, because we are more. We are more because He is more and has formed us in His image. We alone on earth are given a meaning, a mission and a reason for being. Questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’ haunt us because they are yearnings born into us from the beginning of time. Planted deep within our beating heart is a divine identity and reason for being, and our hearts beat out this song, this song that joins us with threads of responsibility, stewardship and care to all this waking world.
‘“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 (emphasise added)
‘So that…’ Just two words that are so easy to brush past, brush over, overlook.
This ‘so that’ crowns us as protectors and stewards over all facets of creation, representing our Creator-Father in creation. This human vocation is woven into the fabric of our humanity. When we are most human, most fully living out the Imago Dei within us, we are living out this calling, living in this calling, living through this calling. With Him.
Paul of Tarsus wrote it down, creation calling to us, creation yearning for us to be. Ourselves.
’For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’ Romans 8: 19
Because the good news of God’s good Kingdom, is not just for humankind, but for the whole created order.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15
You cannot truly be a follower of Jesus and not care about the welfare of this world God has given us and all the beings in it (including human beings). The Gospel is not just for human beings but for all creation. Capitalism is not a mandate from God. Stewardship of the home that He gave us is. Care for all life on this planet is. My eight year old daughter understood this and lived it, in the only way she knew how. She was faithful in doing the best she could, as she understood it, to care for the tiny patch of this planet that was within her reach.
We make a mistake if we think that because we are made in the image of God, we ourselves are the centre of this story and our desires and developments the main point of everything. This is God’s world, not ours. We steward it for Him and with Him. We answer to Him. He is the beating heart centre, He is the rightful King. We are here to steward and serve the world, causing it to flourish, for it’s sake, for our sake, and for the glory of God. Neglecting our calling is neglecting our own beating human heart, created in the image of our Father. A heart blessed by Him.
God gave the first human beings the ‘so that..’ mandate for the development and care of this world, but He doesn’t just ‘leave them to it’ expecting them to figure it out on their own. He gives human beings this mandate and then He brings this mandate to life, with a blessing.
‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28 (emphasise added)
Words have a power we very often negate. Words spoken over us can form the paths we walk, in good ways and in bad. The world has its ink and we are a page, and every stroke creates in us the script lines of our selves, a biography constructed by the words and actions of others.
But these are not the only words spoken over us.
This broken world has a story for me to live in. My scarred history has a story for me to live out. But God has a story that I was born to live.
In the beginning of all things and the genesis of us there was a story being written for us and there were words spoken over us. Words of blessing. Words of empowerment.
Both God and then the Hebrew writers understood the power of words. Words in Hebrew culture have weight. The words of a blessing carry a weight that overflows and runs down the sides of the words which are spoken. A blessing has power and gives power like a wind in the sails and a current underneath a boat, they carry a person in the direction of the blessing2.
God’s words of blessing are full of power, em-powering the fulfilment of our human vocation. Filled to fulfil, God gives humankind a vocational calling and then blesses humankind with the capability to fulfil that vocation.
God’s Word whirled all worlds into existence, but He then invited His beloved children, the bearers of His image into the great creative dance with Him. Join me He whispers, fulfil your vocation, the words of my blessing in you, my purposes for you. Fill yourselves up with my blessing and fully fill this world with your presence, my image in you. Create life as I have created life. And rule responsibly over this planet as I rule responsibly over all things. Represent me in all creation. Be like Me- your true selves.
God began all things, but He invites, blesses and empowers us to participate creatively with Him in the cultivation and completion of it. This means work.
‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ Genesis 2:15
The word here for ‘work it’ means to cultivate, to add to and to develop. However there is a deeper thread woven into these words also; the verbs in the phrase ‘to work it and take care of it’ are also most often used in the Bible to represent not just a job or task, but the particular calling of serving God, a ministry, a special task for God, a priestly service3.
In a world where work has become a means to an end, necessary for survival it is strange to think it could somehow be a form of worship. But that was the original intention, the plan for us. We are not created to be sweat-shop machines churning out results. We were created to take joy in our calling and view it as special, holy, a gift we are giving to our heavenly Father.
Eric Liddell, Olympian and Missionary once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure”. When we discover our God given vocation and pursue it, when we turn up for work in partnership with God, we will feel His pleasure, His warmth, His smiling joy.
Our work is our worship. God receives blessing and honour and joy every time a human being fully lives into the calling they were created for. And every human being is created for a high and holy calling, in some big ways and a thousand small ones.
We yearn for a sense of significance because we are created to be significant, to live out our calling as the Image of God on earth. Our heart’s lean towards purpose, longing to fulfil this call planted deep like a seed in our hearts. As long as we have the breath of God in our lungs and the Spirit of God in our hearts we are not just here to take up space and zone out in front of a screen, or check-out, scrolling through social media posts. We are made for more than consuming consumerism and mindless idleness, and a deep grief rises within us when we live in silent acquiescence to the lie that we are not. Existential emptiness and careless idleness doesn’t sit right with us because it isn’t right for us. Never has been. Never will be. God made that clear, right from the very beginning.
Our ‘Image of God’ anointing, our ‘so that..’ calling, and this blessing spoken over us, all these gifts stitched into our humanity whisper to our souls that we are made for more than dust. These are all gifts, calling us into the gift of ourselves.
But there was also another gift. The most important gift of all…
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” Genesis 2:19-20
In personally bringing the animals to Adam and having Adam name them, God was helping Adam name his own calling, name his own relationship to his calling, name any fears or questions he might have, name that he had his work cut out for him. This is your job Adam, name them, study them, know them, love them, enjoy them, discover who they are so you can care for them with all the gifts grace has given you. This moment when Adam is asked to use all his human faculties to name and know these creatures he is called to, is the moment his calling takes flight. The moment he is not just named human, but demonstrates evidence of being so.
But something else was also being named in this moment.
‘He brought them to the man to see what he would name them’ Genesis 2:19 (emphasise added)
God is right there by Adam’s side, as close as the breath He placed in Adam’s lungs, mentoring him, leading him, partnering with him. God gave us our calling, this mandate for the development and care of this world, He gave us a blessing enabling us to fulfil our calling, but then He gives us one final gift that makes all the other gifts make sense.
He gives us a partner. A friend. A mentor in our calling.
He gives us Himself.
God with us.
Because it was always personal. To Him. He was close. As close as He intended to stay. With us. Always. As close as He intended us to be. With Him. Always. This God, our Father, is not a distant deity, He is not a disinterested uninvolved father. He is here, by our side, as close as the breath He placed in our lungs. He is never far from any one of us4.
Our calling springs from the Image of God in us, but only flourishes in the presence of God with us.
We were not formed to work for God, like other creation myths dictated5. We were formed to work with God. To partner with Him in the cultivation and care of His world. The ultimate blessing God gives us is Himself. And the ultimate blessing we bring to this world is the gift of Him as we represent Him and His heart within it.
Human beings are not spectators, we are innovators, problem solvers, history makers and change creators, like our Heavenly Father. We name the world around us, we study it and know it, and we begin to know ourselves through our calling to it. We have a reason for being and a God who longs to walk with us in close partnership helping us to live that reason.
But how do we know what our calling is? Is it a paid job? Is it a life’s work? Or a moment’s? How do I know I’m on track? On song? So often we wrestle with these unsettling questions, but the simple answer is this: the more we know God, the more we will know ourselves, the more we walk with Him, the more He will lead us along the paths He has called us to. Because we never truly know ourselves until we know ourselves through God’s eyes, and know ourselves though His presence with us.
Unless we take this journey in partnership with Him, all we have at our disposal is our frail half-formed human identity; an identity formed by the cracked-mirror words of other fractured human beings, reflecting broken images back to us of ourselves.
God sees us. He sees who we really are, long before we do. He sees the authentic shape of our beating heart and strengthens us to be… ourselves.
Only God knows who you truly are. Only He can take you there.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT
One thing we can know though, is that the larger calling underneath all the specifics of our individual callings will always be this; we are all called to be fully human, the image of God on Earth, and to bring that humanising Imago Dei humanity into every corner of our lives, every task of our jobs, every moment of our relationships and every interaction with our communities. God calls us His children. And calls us to represent and resemble Him, our Heavenly Father, in this world full of confusion, turmoil and suffering; this world which has forgotten who He is; this world which has forgotten what it means to be truly human.
The image of God within us, and the presence of God with us, is all that is required to turn this broken world around. ‘The glory of God is a person fully alive’6, the hope of the world is for us to be fully alive in Him.
God doesn’t want our half-hearted lip-service in Sunday morning pews, He wants us fully human, fully alive, fully engaged with Him in the calling He’s gifted us for, the good work7 He’s planned for us long ago.
God’s great mission is to re-humanise humankind, to breathe life back into our empty souls and awaken again in us the irrepressible joy of being.
Human. Imago Dei.
This broken world has a story for us to live in. Our scarred history has a story for us to live out.
But God has a story that each one of us was born to live.
How does it change the way you live and work to know that you are blessed and called, and to know that God wants to partner with you in fulfilling your calling?
References Notes and Credits
1 John H. Walton, ‘The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis’ Zondervan 2001
2 ‘Blessing’ by William E. Brown, Bible study tools.com referencing: W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament; Becker, ‘Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology’, Walter A. Elwell.1996
3 John Walton Genesis, the NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan 2001, commentary on Genesis 2:15, page 172
4 Acts 17:26-28, Philippians 4:5, Deuteronomy 4:7
5 The ancient Babylonian Story ‘Enuma Elish’ from 1800 BC tells of the creation of humankind as a result of a battle between a god ‘Marduk’ and monster-goddess Ti’amat. It is out of the blood of this monster-goddess that human kind is created as an afterthought for service of the Gods:
‘I will establish a savage (lullu) ‘man’ shall be his name, verily, savage-man I will create, He shall be charged with the service of the gods That they may be at ease.’
6 The early Church Father St. Ireneaus said “The glory of God is man fully alive, but the life of man is the vision of God.”
7 ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ Ephesians 2:10