Hands that can hold a wrench or a paintbrush or a guitar or a scalpel or a child.
Eyes that can look through a telescope to study the glory of the heavens and through a microscope to investigate the intricacies of cells. Eyes that can gaze upon that which is beautiful and that which is ugly. Eyes that can see what is right and what needs to be corrected.
Ears. Toes. Biceps. Knees. Nostrils.
In the beginning there was God, designing a world that he deemed “very good” (Genesis 1:31). And at the pinnacle of this amazing creation were the human beings. Designed by God for amazing and various tasks. Designed by God for His glory.
Yes, human beings are glorious creatures. We are glorious because we reflect the glory of God, who 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” (Gen. 1:26).
Over against the novel idea that we need to find our self-esteem and find affirmation about how great we are, the Bible says we inherently have dignity because we have been made to reflect God as image bearers. This is both an ennobling thing and a humbling thing, for the glory of being a human being is a derived glory. It shines only because God made us this way, and it is spectacular only because it is a reflection of God.
The Image of God Looks Like a Job Description
For centuries, there has been a lot of speculation on what this “image and likeness” means—some say it is our ability to reason, others say it is our ability to relate to one another. Could be. Probably these are major parts of what it means.
But what does the actual text say? According to Genesis 1:28, the image of God looks like a job description!
- Be fruitful and increase in number
- Fill the earth
- Subdue and rule the earth
First, we are designed to be fruitful in making babies and thus making communities of people, living together in flourishing relationships. In other words, reflecting the triune God, we are to relate with each other, lovingly providing for each other’s needs. Families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and customers. Neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, nations, and the world.
I need to contemplate my relationships for a moment. How am I nurturing them, making space for connections, for hospitality, for conversations? How am I seeking the welfare of the community in which God has placed me (see Jer. 29:7)?
Second, we were designed to fill the earth with our cultural goods, making stuff from the raw material that God has so graciously created. In other words, we are to reflect the creator God by creating stuff ourselves. The whole earth is filled with God’s glory—all we need to do is look around us at the marvels of his creation. Now God tells us to fill the earth as well. And as we do so, the earth is filled with even more of his glory.
Therefore, I need to remember that my work has deep significance. When I contribute to culture by working to provide goods and services, I am reflecting the good Creator of all things, filling the earth with the good things that provide for those around me. How am I participating with God in bringing blessing to others through my work? How is my work a very practical means to love my neighbor?
Third, we are designed to subdue and rule the earth, to place it under our benevolent control. In other words, God makes us his vice-regents in charge of his good creation. We are stewards of God’s good creation. But rather than doing what humans often do, we are not to exploit it; we are to “cultivate and care for it” (see Gen. 2:15). And the good creation is not merely limited to the natural beauty of birds and trees, sea and fish, and mountains and elk. The good creation is also all the things that God has dialed into the world—families, business, education, government, entertainment, etc. God is the Lord of it all and has placed us in charge under his rule.How am I doing in this task of watching over the things of this world? What can I do to see God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Where I see things that are good, beautiful, and right, how can I help these things develop and be sustained? Where I see things that are wrong, unjust, or sinful, what is God calling me to do about it?
From Architects to Computer Technicians to Farmers
So it is a very practical thing, this image of God in mankind. We see it play out in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of people, in all sorts of fields. When I was an editor for The High Calling (now a part of the Theology of Work Project), I comissioned some articles from authors who provided unique insights into how God has designed us in His image for good work.
David Greusel is an architect that has figured out how his gift for design reflects God’s glory. David writes,
“What does redeemed architecture look like? Does it have Bible verses encoded in the decoration? Scrolls of scripture hidden in the mortar joints? I think not. To my way of thinking, redemptive design seeks the good of the city, and of the people in the city, whether they live or work in the building or not. This means the building has to be a good neighbor, reinforcing the street and not alienating passers-by. It should promote human flourishing, whether as a place of dwelling, work, or recreation, and help people to be, in Andy Crouch’s phrase, most gloriously themselves. And regardless of its use, it should point to a higher reality, not with encoded Bible verses, but with excellence in design and craft.” (see “Redeeming Architecture” by David Greusel)
Mike Wittmer shared how is friend Jordan, a computer technician, helps people flourish. As Mike observed this young Christian man in his work, juggling the task of fixing the computer in front of him while fielding phone calls for tech support, he is in awe.
“Jordan’s job contributes to this larger endeavor. His behind the scenes role supports the technology that enables others to make something of the world … He never lost his composure through the entire ordeal. He exuded patience, the fruit of the Spirit that takes the longest to ripen, and so showed that he has been walking with Jesus for a long time.” (see “What Do You Make Possible?” by Mike Wittmer)
And Billy Coffey tells a story of farmers Clive and Darrell Howard, father and son. Darrell has decided that the life of farming is not what he wants, so he plans, “The university first, and then a proper job. Someplace in the city. Downtown, with a view of the skyline instead of the ridgeline. Suits instead of coveralls. Early retirement. The country club.” Clive wants the best for Darrell, but he worries that Darrell has not grasped the goodness of God’s design for hard work. He wants his son to experience how work, in and of itself, brings purpose.
“It isn’t that he views his son’s goals as less than the life Darrell had been born into. Whether sitting in a corner office or plowing the back forty, so long as Darrell works, Clive will be happy. Work itself is Clive’s concern, and not specifically on the farm. What place will work have in the life of his son? That’s what Clive Howard wonders.” (see “Are We Meant for Toil?” by Billy Coffey)