Part 2 of series: Being the People of God
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Fraulein Maria got it right in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” This bit of wisdom works, not only for learning how to sing, but also for discovering what it means to be the people of God.
As you might have guessed, the beginning about which I speak is The Beginning, you know, of the “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” variety. If we look closely at the God’s creation, especially his creation of human beings, then we’ll head off in the right direction for our search for being the people of God.
In Genesis 1 God creates the heavens and the earth, the waters and the sky, the land and the plants, the birds and the fish, and finally the animals. But then, at the center of his masterpiece, God creates human beings. Here’s how the passage reads in the NRSV:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)
The word translated here as humankind is adam in Hebrew, which means “a human being” or “all humanity taken together.” In more traditional English adam is rendered man or mankind. We know that the text is speaking of human beings as a group, rather than one particular person, because of the plural “let them have dominion” (v. 26) or “in the image of God he created them” (v. 27).
So what do we learn in this passage that is relevant to our quest for the meaning of the people of God? Well, first of all we learn that there is a curiously close relationship between human beings and our Creator, since we were created in God’s image. Without going into detail about what this might mean, suffice to say that we are like God in a unique way in all of creation.
Second, we learn that God made people for a purpose: “to have dominion” over the creation (v. 26; vv 27-30). Verse 28 adds that human beings are to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” So God made people to take care of the earth and its creatures and to make more people so that we might fill the earth. I expect we get a mixed grade in the first subject, caring for the earth and its creatures, but a higher grade in the second, filling the earth with people. According to the latest count, there are now 6,647,172,983 people on earth (most of whom are sitting in traffic somewhere right now, I fear.)
Third, Genesis 1 shows us that human beings find their completeness, not as isolated individuals, but rather in community with others. God did not create a single individual in his image. Rather, humankind reflects the image of God as male and female. It takes two to tango when it comes to God’s image. Christian theologians have seen a precursor to a Trinitarian understand of God in the story of Genesis. And, though this surely goes beyond the original sense of the narrative, it’s a valid theological reflection. God, who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, is reflected in humankind as male and female, as a community, if you will.
To put it differently, the first creation story in Genesis shows that we are not just individuals who happen to get together with other individuals out of convenience. Rather, our very created nature involves being with others. We are created as a people, and in relationship to our being people together we find our individual identities.
Of course more could be said about Genesis 1 and the people of God. I expect there have been whole dissertations written on this subject. But, for now, we get some direction in our search for the significance of the people of God.
In my next post I’ll examine the second creation account in Genesis 2.