God paints on a big canvas. Traveling across our average-sized galaxy at the speed of light would take approximately 100,000 years. And the universe holds an estimated one hundred billion such galaxies. Some physicists believe that the universe itself is part of a multiverse that might hold billions of universes, and untold trillions of galaxies like our own.
It’s a big canvas. But, according to the Bible, the centerpiece of this act of creative genius is humanity. As far as we know, the stars and nebula and galaxies are backdrop (or maybe playground). The crown of creation is man.
“Man” is a collective noun denoting humans, both male and female. Unlike the other forms into which God joyfully shaped the four forces of nature – whether nebula or ocean, gold or iron, lion or turtle – man is specifically said to be formed in the image of God. Genesis says: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule … over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
In a way that dust and stars and chimps and angels do not, man bears God’s image. In ancient times leaders would place images of themselves throughout their kingdoms (as they do today – one need only think of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean head of state, or Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq.) Such images served to remind their subjects of their ruler.
When God made the earth, he intended to place his image everywhere, a constant reminder that he rules the world. Humans were intended to be the living image of God, ruling creation as his representatives, with his love and wisdom flowing through them to all creation. Everywhere one looked, or so it was intended, one would find the image of the joyful and gracious king, acting with joy and grace toward his creation.
When God created the stars that manufacture nuclear energy on levels that we cannot even imagine, he was running no risk. When he made dinosaurs the size of buildings, they posed no threat. When he sent the earth spinning at nineteen thousand miles per hour, and flicked it with his finger so that it sailed through space at 67,000 miles per hour, it was safer than a Sunday afternoon drive. But when he made man, he created the potential for disaster—and he knew it.
In creation, everything happened just as God said it would. The creation refrain is, “He said . . . and it was so.” When God said, “Let there be light,” it was so. When he said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water,” “it was so.” When he said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear,” “it was so.” But man, made in God’s image, was given a will of his own. When God said to man, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” it was not so.
Man was the X-factor. He was (from our perspective) creation’s biggest risk, and its biggest reward. The potential for humans – whether aged or unborn, free or serving a life sentence in solitary – is inestimable. Every human is priceless: the phone solicitor, the engineer, the restaurant server, the genius and the mentally handicapped, all are infinitely valuable.
According to the biblical story, the Creator’s perfect creation was damaged by human rebellion, and the canvas torn. That is why we have wars and poverty and illness and pollution and bigotry – all the problems with which we are so familiar. But the Creator is in the process of rescuing and restoring his beloved creation. He’s working on a “new creation.”
The first creation culminated in the making of man. The new creation commenced with the making of new men. The old creation took six days. The new creation is ongoing. It may be that those with faith in Jesus Christ are but its first brushstrokes, but the Artist has promised to present his masterpiece. When the finishing touches are complete and all things have been made new, then the long-awaited announcement will ring out: “It is done” (Revelation 21:6).
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/9/2015