It is a question as old as humanity: Why are we on earth and what are we supposed to do while we are here?
Even the ancients spent time on this. The Bible tells us from the very beginning in Genesis about many who searched for and discovered their purposes: Jabal discovered how to raise livestock, Jubal developed different types of music, Tubal-Cain mastered metalworking.
These ancients figured out what to do while here on earth, but what about us? What is our role? Many answers can be found by gazing into the moment we were created.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
We have a dual role, we humans. A dual purpose, given to us by God Himself. Let us make. We are created, a part of God’s creation. In our image. We are God’s unique counterpart, His representatives here on earth.
Being made in God’s image brings with it certain responsibilities. The second part of Genesis 1.26 says that God decided we were to rule, to have dominion over, all living creatures.
David echoes this in Psalm 8 when he says that God crowned us with honor and made us rulers of all that God created.
This has, unfortunately, been used too often as an excuse to plunder the earth and destroy it. Instead, “as God’s image bearers…we are to be wise stewards of the earth, caring for it and protecting it in a way that reflects and embodies God’s rule over his creation.” ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
As God’s representatives, His image bearers, we also are to spread the knowledge of God and His love to the rest of the world. We are to work to speed up God’s future goal for creation, to bring healing, restoration, hope and peace to the world around us.
Israel was supposed to be a picture of this. Israel was called to be God’s people, accomplishing God’s purposes for humanity in and for the world. They had experienced God’s rescuing power and love and were intended to be His way of giving that love to the rest of the world.
Does that sound familiar, as though it were, perhaps, something we are supposed to do? I wonder what would have happened if Israel had obeyed. What would our world look like if they had acted as God’s representatives? This is a painful question because Israel’s purposes were but a shadow of our own.
What would our world look like if we were truly acting as God’s representative? What would our neighborhood, our community look like if we were caring for and protecting our world, if we were sharing God’s rescuing love with the people around us? Different?
Things have gone wrong and many live in alienation from one another and in purposeless and destructive living. We should want to be different. We should be reflecting the image of God to the piece of creation in which He has placed us.
Our second role from that moment of creation is our very creatureliness. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
We are created by God. Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation. We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us on behalf of all of creation. A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return. We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.
In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise. ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role. What grace that God entrusted this to us! And yet what tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation. Including worshiper of self. Just as we have twisted our role as God’s representative, we have twisted our role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.
However. (What a beautiful word is however!) God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus. Man. God. A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God. A man who perfectly acted out God’s wise rule in the world.
He is creation’s worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice. He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world. ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this news about Jesus? We are invited to join Him. What joy and grace! What a gift! By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
What a beautiful circle. What beautiful purpose.
reworked and much edited from the archives
it’s a little funny to me that this blog is old enough to have archives
The Bible is the Word of God. It is God speaking to us, revealing Himself to us so that we can know Him, know how much He loves us and so that we can learn how to love Him in return.
This Bible of ours is a beautiful book of love. And there are parts of the Bible that are downright disturbing, parts that don’t adhere to our black and white notions of God. We like to gloss over these, to skim over them so that we don’t have to think about them, but they just won’t go away. There are parts of God’s Word that don’t fit the image we have of God. They don’t fit the sort of God we want God to be. Even God the Son does and says some absurd and strange things. Like the cursing of the fig tree. Who, for the love of God, would curse a tree because it is not bearing fruit in the winter? How could that action possibly have been done for the love of God?
Another of these disturbing pieces is God as a jealous God. We tend to think of jealousy as weak, as petty, as fear. We think of it as wishing that we were and had what we are not and do not. But God is in everything and by Him everything lives and moves and has its being. How can both of these be true?
We don’t always get a resolution of the images of God that don’t fit, these pieces of God we can’t make sense of. This one, though, has become clearer lately through reading Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. She speaks of the jealousy of God as mother love, as a lion or tiger protecting her young with passion and fierceness. This jealousy of God is the kind of jealousy that protects her vulnerable children from all that would hurt them, from all that would steal their joy.
It makes sense, then, that one of the times this image of God is given to us is in the first of the Ten Commandments. These commandments were meant to show us how much we need God, to teach us how life works and the way we will be most happy. So if God is jealous to keep false gods away from us, it is the jealousy that wants to protect us from all that would harm our souls.
God’s jealousy allows us to trust Him.
Who, after all, would trust a God, a parent, spouse, or lover, who said to us, “I really love you, but I don’t care at all what you do or who you become.”? ~ Kathleen Norris
It is resolutions like this, resolutions that show that what seems disturbing is all somehow out of love and holiness, resolutions that help us trust for the unknown, disquieting pieces. They help us trust that God is holy and is love and is working to make all of us and all of this world into what it was created to be.
Resolutions like this help us trust that God is a jealous God, “who loves us enough to care when we stray. And who has given us commandments to help us find the way home.” ~ Kathleen Norris
Art Credit: Moses Smashing the Tablet of the Law by Rembrandt
I am always yearning for perfection. I long for this battle to be done, for the result of a war won to become more evident. I want my internal battle to be finished as well as the battle over this world of ours. I get tired, you see, of fighting. I want to love perfectly, to obey perfectly, to forgive perfectly.
I want our world to be able to quit fighting.
I want all of us to love perfectly, to love in a way that results in bodies getting fed, animals feeling safe, hearts being healed, trees growing tall.
I’m ready for the lion and the lamb to lie down together.
Yet if I had been born into perfection, I would never have experienced the gift that is grace. This grace-gift of being loved at my most unlovable, of being shaped into perfection at my most imperfect. Is it worth it? A hard question.
If I had been perfect from the start, I wouldn’t know battle and I wouldn’t know mercy. I would, perhaps, trust more in myself than in the One who made me. Are heights of joy made richer by the depths carved by sorrow?
Grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. ~ Anne Lamott
I don’t know why this is so. I don’t know why we can only experience grace while being ineffective and foolish. I don’t know why we must experience battle in order to grasp this gift full of beauty. I wish it were not this way.
I do know that God does nothing by accident. I do know that God created with a purpose of love and I do know that someday His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Is grace worth all of this?
There is much that I don’t know. And there are a few things I do.
Art credit: Illustration from Luther Bible 1769
The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world. An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view. Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown. Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding. There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means. On some of these issues I am changing. On others I remain. Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy. We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words. Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace. It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely. I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ. I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus. And seeing Jesus is always hard. Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love. Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right. He didn’t say it was the easiest thing. Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown. Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
It is painful and it is frightening.
And those gray shades are beautiful beyond words.
Who can know the motivations and secret desires of another soul?
Who can know the motivations and secret desires of your own soul?
We often speak about motivations being more important than actions, that the right action done for the wrong reason is still wrong. Yet who can have pure motives…ever?
Even when my motive for doing something is right, it is not pure. There is always something else, some bit of pride or dash of selfishness, mixed in along with the right.
Take this dream of mine to write, to be published. I want to give people hope, to help people know this God of ours who is always good and who always loves. And it would be amazing to get to tell people that I am published, that I have a book written, a book that actual people actually paid to read! And that second part is straight out of my own desire to be known and loved by others above God. How in the world, how in this earthly world, can I ever get it right if much of the time I don’t even fully know my own motives, much less be able to control them?
It would be enough to sink us into despair, this inability even to know our own sin, this inability to know and purify the deep places of ourselves.
King David speaks in Psalm 139 of God being the God of the heavens as well as of Sheol, the God of the heights of the morning as well as of the depths of the sea. David says that our own innermost being is made up of parts that are even further away than those…and yet God knows them most intimately. He pleads with God to search him and know him. To know those parts of himself that even David cannot see, and to purify him.
David trusts fully in God’s Spirit. He trusts that God is able to purify us not only on the levels of which we are conscious, but on our deepest levels of which we are not even aware as well.
In I Thessalonians, Paul proclaims the ability of God to sanctify us completely, to keep our whole spirit, soul, and body blameless. Jude praises God for being able to keep us from stumbling, for being able to present us blameless in His presence.
If this only means that we will be presented blameless for the sin we are aware of, we are to be most pitied. Praise God that He is able to purify us from the depths to the heights of our whole selves!
The same Spirit that fed the life of Jesus Christ will feed the life of our spirit. It is only when we are protected by God with the miraculous sacredness of the Holy Spirit that our spirit, soul, and body can be preserved in pure uprightness until the coming of Jesus – no longer condemned in God’s sight. ~ Oswald Chambers
Praise be to God for His mercy and grace. Thanks be to Him for not only rescuing us but for molding us into the shape of His Son as well.
To live life well is hard.
It is difficult to live deliberately, to continue to work for the good of yourself and those you love. It is easier to coast, to react, to let things slide.
For myself, it is easier to let the clutter pile up than to keep our house feeling like a home. It is easier to read mind-candy sorts of novels than to ponder the nature of our God and this universe. It is easier to let my children learn on their own or through their schools, to allow my girls get away with small acts of unkindness and to be passive in the way they discover God than to fight for their hearts and their minds. It is easier to let my relationship with my husband drift, to sit in our separate corners in the evenings than to work to know him and enjoy him.
Often I do not want to fight. I do not want to fight for what is good. I do not want to fight for what is God-honoring and God-pleasing.
Yet I fight anyway. I fight because I love and, in this world anyway, loving requires you to fight.
I don’t fight perfectly, though. I fight in fear of the needs that others have. I fight in fear of my own inability to give anything good. I fight in fear of doing the wrong thing and causing irreparable harm.
But still I fight, imperfect as it may be. I fight in obedience to One who fought for me.
Just like you. You go and you fight. You go to the bedside of the sick or even the dying and you fight. You go to the home of someone who is lonely and you fight. You go to a meeting of a church group in need of volunteers and you fight. You go to the food pantry, the orphanage, the shelter, and you fight. You go to funeral, the party, the study, and you fight.
We go because it is where His way leads us; and again and again we are blessed by our going in ways we can never anticipate, and our going becomes a blessing to the ones we go to because when we follow His way, we never go entirely along, and it is always something more than just ourselves and our own emptiness that we bring. ~ Frederick Buechner
So keep going. Keep fighting. And be blessed because when you go and when you fight, you are never fighting alone.
Art credit: photo of Christ carrying the cross by Asta Rastauskiene
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness; He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. ~ I Timothy 3.16
In a world of science and proofs and self-evident truths, we serve a God of mystery.
We claim to know God, to understand His character, but the truth is that our God is unknowable. Even as we speak what we know to be true about God, we do not understand how those truths work, how they relate to God, how they fit together.
There are words in the Bible, stories and descriptions about God that make me uncomfortable. Verses and paragraphs I would rather push aside or gloss over because I do not know how to explain them.
Our churches train us to prove, to argue, to set forth evidence for God. They train us to thoroughly explain His character, to make rational aspects of His works.
Yet our churches are trained by our culture. Our culture that says that knowledge is power. It says that what is worth anything is knowable, what is valued is quantifiable.
…the important truths, that knowledge is power, that knowledge is safety, and that knowledge is happiness. ~ Thomas Jefferson
As children, we understood that there was mystery in our world and it stirred and excited something deep within us. As adults, we become knowers, seeking to understand all things.
Childhood is motivated by wonder, and the task of adulthood is not to eliminate wonder but to expand it. ~ Ken Myers
Some find the idea of mystery frightening, wanting to know and to understand. Don’t we know God as revealed in His Word and in Christ?
Our attempt to speak confidently of God in the face of modern skepticism, a skepticism we suspect also grips our lives as Christians, betrays a certainty inappropriate for a people who worship a crucified God. ~ Stanley Hauerwas
Yes, we know God and we know things about God. Knowing, however, means more than just intellect. It is much deeper than that. The full revelation of God does not make us want to list the things we know, to produce a dissertation full of facts about God.
Rather, the full revelation of God makes us want to bow in worship of the One who is mystery.
Art credits: photographs of space from NASA; DNA strand by Tomislav Alajbeg
Imagine that you are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and you stroll down a street that is a little unfamiliar. The road is lined with sidewalks and trees, the houses are evenly spaced with a bit of yard for each. The houses are nothing fancy, just small, American Dream with a white picket fence sorts of houses. As you stroll along, just as the shadows begin to lengthen and the creeping dusk begins to carry with it the scent of a coming rain, one lighted window catches your eye. You pause and find yourself caught by an image. Young adults, seated around a table with a card game on it, joined by an older couple. Children playing together on the floor. A gray-haired elderly man walks in using a cane. You are not sure why the scene has so captivated you, you really must be getting home before the rain begins to fall, but something about the sight of extended family enjoying each other’s company keeps you rooted for longer than you should have stayed.
What are your thoughts as you stand there, feeling chilled by the damp in the air yet unwilling to walk away just yet? Are you filled with a longing you can’t quite explain? Does it remind you of your own family and the time you had with them just the other week? Do you wonder what bitter fights and disappointments lurk in a room more removed from the street views?
What is it about a family?
We all want one. Even those who say they don’t need anyone around would, I dare say, wish deep inside for a perfect family to love them.
Even the word itself brings a picture of love and peace, acceptance and light. The idea of multiple generations caring for one another is enough to set our hearts yearning for an ideal.
Does family really matter? In this world that would tell us that career is more important than children, that independence is better than living intertwined, is family truly that important?
Yes. Emphatically yes.
Families were designed to bring us back to God. There is much about the workings of a family that draws us in, that points our hearts toward God.
The miracle of the birth of a baby, for instance, turns your mind toward thoughts of God, especially God as Father. When you hold your own baby for the first time, your heart is drawn to mystery, drawn to contemplate the miracle of creation. I just read this in WORLD magazine:
The baby daughter of writer Whittaker Chambers helped to move him from Communism to Christ. Chambers wrote inWitness (1952), “My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”