The Story Begins
very story has a beginning, and God’s is no exception. The beginning found in Genesis 1–2 provides the biblical answer to the questions of where we are and who we are. In other words, how did everything that exists get here? Many ancient cultures tried to provide answers to that question. For instance, the Babylonians wrote an account of beginnings called Enuma Elish. The Babylonian story focused on polytheism, with creation being the result of the gods behaving badly.1
In contrast, the biblical story centers around one true God who wills to create. Every event from that time on finds its source in God. What do we find in the biblical story of beginnings?
GOD CREATES EX NIHILO
The biblical story tells us how all these things around us (light, dark, earth, sky, water, land, fish, dogs, cats, us) came to be, but it does not say the same about the main character—God. The Bible just assumes that God exists. “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1). He simply existed as the only being already in existence. That leads us to an awesome conclusion. If God alone existed when he created, then he created everything from nothing.2
Theologians call this creation ex nihilo
. God simply called or spoke everything into existence. So where are we? We are in a world created entirely by God. That is the biblical explanation for the beginning of life and the world. God’s story centers on God, who by his nature and power speaks all that is into being.
What does that mean to us? First, all things, including people, owe their being and continued life to God. It means that the creating God is powerful beyond all imagination. He required nothing but himself to create. He created from his own resources and will. Creation completely belongs to God. He cares about and participates in the created world. God spoke into existence all things, relates to the creation, sustains it, and rules over all.
Eastern Wall of Doura Europa and the Euphrates River
According to the Bible, the process of God’s creation followed a planned pattern. In what Genesis calls six days,3
God unfolded the plan. The story says that on the first day God created light where before there was only darkness, and he separated the light from the darkness. “God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:4). God continued on the second day by speaking into existence the firmament, or sky. The sky separated the earth from all other entities in the universe. Again, God declared this creation good. On the third day, God made the bodies of water, dry ground, and vegetation. “And God saw that it was good” (v. 12). On the fourth day God made the sun, moon, seasons, and days. “And God saw that it was good” (v. 18). God created fish for the bodies of water and birds to fill the sky, each according to its own kind, on the fifth day. “And God saw that it was good” (v. 21). And then on the sixth day, he made animals each according to its own kind, and finally the crown of creation—humans. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule. . . .’ So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (vv. 26–27). The man and woman (humanity) were blessed and given the task of filling the earth and ruling over the other creatures. God gave them the garden as their place for living and the plants within it to sustain them. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed” (v. 31). God rested on the seventh day after his self-proclaimed good work. This description appears in the first section of God’s creation story found in Gen 1:1–2:3.
The Crown of the Creation
God provides a more detailed explanation of human origins in Gen 2:4–25. God fashioned the first man, called Adam, from the dust and “breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being” (v. 7). Man was placed in a garden in the east with trees for food that were pleasing to the eyes. In the middle of the garden stood two unique trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God instructed Adam that he could eat of any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To eat from it was to die. Although Adam communicated with God and
tended God’s garden, he was the only human. Nothing among the created order corresponded with man, as was the case with the animals. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him” (v. 18). “Corresponding to,” or opposite him, indicates that the woman would be complementary, equal, and “even able to respond to him and even challenge him.”4
How did God create this woman? God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep; and from one of his ribs, he made the first woman, Eve. As equal partners in humanity, they were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. With this action God established the first social unit of the creation, the family. Together Adam and Eve served God and communicated with him daily in the garden.
This story of God’s creation of Adam and Eve means that all people on earth are connected to these two original humans. God related to them and created them, male and female, for relationship. Humans form families and are family in a larger sense. With the creation of Eve came the first marriage relationship and, from that, the first family. This formed the basic structure for society. “And the man said: ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man.’ This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:23–24).
Woman became man’s helper or partner. She shared in the responsibility of filling the earth and overseeing the creation. God’s wisdom recognized that two are better than one for they can help and relate to each other (Eccl 4:7–9). The two multiplied and eventually filled the earth. They grew from family to nation to nations of people.
The Image of God
Who are these humans? What made them so unique from the other animals created? Some argue that people are just more advanced animals, but the story says more: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen 1:26). God created humans in his image, in his likeness. What could that mean? Surely it does not refer merely to physical qualities, or could it? John Calvin argued that “in man’s body ‘some sparks’ of God’s image glow.”5
But later the biblical story clearly states that God is Spirit. Some biblical scholars make a distinction between “image” and “likeness.” Likeness
indicates that man is not identical to God but reflects God. Interpretations vary on the image of God. What can we know about the biblical use of image
in describing humans in the created order? First, humankind serves as viceroy over creation—God’s place of dominion. Second, people possess a filial relationship to God as part of his family and therefore have family likeness. Third, humans have a dignity and value connected to their unique relationship to God.6
But what else does the image of God mean? On the more practical level, some argue that image relates to abilities that humans have. We reason more effectively than the other animals, or we are more intelligent. Without a doubt these observations prove true but may refer more to degree than to a unique possession. Image
may refer to the ability to know right from wrong (conscience), while animals operate by mere instinct. But maybe a more appropriate answer can be found in the fact that of all the creatures made by God, people alone walked with God in the garden and talked with him. They related personally to God. Perhaps, then, the best definition for the image of God is
the ability to relate to God in a personal way. God breathed into man’s nostrils, and he became a living soul. God endowed humans with spirit to relate to God, who is also spirit. We can know God, communicate with him, praise him, and serve him. Maybe the extra reason and intelligence we possess enhances that ability. Herein we also find some of the purpose of God’s creation—to relate to the Creator. To miss that may be to miss what we were created for (Acts 17:24–28).
What else is included in this image concept? If we are created in the image of a God of freewill, then we also have the r...