Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Genesis 1:26-28 New Living Translation
The idea that humanity carries the image of God in them is rooted in the very beginning of the story of God and humanity. In the creation accounts, we are told that humanity is created in the image of God. Humanity is given the responsibility of stewarding God’s creation on His behalf. We are told to reign over and govern creation. This is not a blank check that frees humanity to do whatever they please with the rest of the created world. Our call to govern creation is only within the parameters of still remaining in the image of God and under His authority. Faithfully carrying out this call means that we seek to preserve what is good in God’s creation to honor Him. It precludes any idea of exploiting God’s creation for our own benefit at the expense of what is good for all creation.
The obvious challenge to this thinking is that humanity has not always done well in how it treats the rest of creation. There is much done in human history that leaves behind wreckage and debris that looks nothing like the good world God created in the beginning. The answer to this paradox is found a few pages later when humanity tells God through their actions that they would prefer to set their own standards of good and evil and reject His way. They still have the image of God in them but it has been tarnished by the forces of evil in the world that push us toward seeking our own benefit ahead of the benefit of others. When we give in to the tendencies that do not come from the image of God in us, the results can be rather devastating.
As followers of Jesus, the perfect expression of the image of God on earth, we have the opportunity to lay aside our self-centered tendencies and seek the betterment of others. We can also recognize when our society has abdicated our role as stewards and given into the values of self-preservation and self-centeredness. We can call out those things we see and seek to live in a way that demonstrates to others what a life that lives out the image of God looks like.
The recent crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic provides many examples of both the good and the bad of human nature. Recently a story has emerged about the dilemma facing farmers who raise livestock for the corporate meat industry. As I read about farmers having to decide if they will need to euthanize their herds of swine that they cannot sell to corporate production facilities that have been closed due to COVID outbreaks, I can’t help but wonder if this is the end result of a system that has abdicated the human role of being stewards of creation in favor of a corporate system that commodifies our fellow creatures. When we begin to see the rest of creation as a commodity that we produce according to preset formulas that maximize our profits, we lose a piece of the image of God in our lives. Many of these farmers are struggling with the decision they now face. Some are finding creative ways to get at least part of their herd directly to people through other means. These farmers are doing their best to live out the call to be good stewards of creation, but they are caught in a system that lives by values of profit over anything else. As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to model a new way of stewarding creation according to the value God places on His creation and to offer empathy to those who are currently stuck in this system. We can also advocate for changes in how meat is produced in our nation that is much for humane. We can pick-up the mantel of the image of God again and lead the way to positive change for the future.
God, forgive us for the times we have abdicated our role as stewards of your creation in favor of the principles of a corrupt system. Help us to be examples of what it means to be good stewards according to Your values.