This is how God brought the heavens and the earth into being. Before this happened, there was nothing, absolutely nothing but God. The universe was a sea of nonexistence, a dark void of empty space. Then the Holy Spirit started stirring things up, like a bird flapping its wings. In the midst of this energetic swirl, God’s voice thundered, “Let’s turn on the lights.” And Word brought light into being. God referred to the light as “Day,” and the darkness as “Night.” This is how evening and morning were created.
Several Days later, after Sky, Space, Land, Sea, Plants, Sun and Moon were created, God spoke, the Spirit fluttered her wings, and Word brought animals into being that filled the Sky, Land and Sea. God looked around and said, “That’s good!”
Then God said to Spirit and Word, “Let’s make humans who are a reflection of our image, who bear a family resemblance. They will be benevolent caretakers and of all the animals.” This is how humans were created, as an artistic impression of their Creator. God blessed them and reminded them of their job description as benevolent caretakers and wise stewards of all the animals and plants on planet Earth.
Then God, Spirit and Word took one last look at everything they had created and said, “That’s very good! Very good, indeed!” The first week came to an end with a day for Sabbath rest which is why it’s so important for us to do the same. [artistic paraphrase by David Eck based on the Hebrew text]
The first chapter of Genesis says we are created in the image of God. Here’s the NRSV version: “Then God said, ‘Let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness’…So God created HUMANKIND in his image, in the image of God he created THEM.”
When we hear these familiar words, we tend to hear all the plurals as singulars. We ignore God referring to God’s self as “us” and “we.” While it says ALL of humankind is created in the image of God, we hear “I am created in the image of God,” and “You are created in the image of God,” rather than “us” collectively.
It’s the difference between a painting and a puzzle. One is complete by itself. The other needs all of the pieces assembled together in order to see the full picture.
You might think I’m splitting grammatical hairs, but the way we interpret this concept, makes a HUGE difference in how we understand God, ourselves, and the ways we interconnect. So, allow me to get a little creative with the way we understand Genesis 1, and see where it leads us.
We’ll start with God. In the early chapters of Genesis, God sometimes speaks in a way that some people assume is a “royal we.” “Let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness.” [Gen 1:26] Is God having an identity crisis? I don’t think so!
We see the same thing in Genesis 3, where God says, “See, the man has become like one of US, knowing good and evil.” [Gen 3:22]
It also happens in Genesis 11, “Come, let US go down, and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” [Gen 11:7]
I have watched theologians do cartwheels and triple twisted back flips n order to explain what is happening here. But on this Holy Trinity Sunday, I would argue that the answer is much simpler. The “we” and “us” in these passages refer to the Holy Trinity.
God is the Creator who brought the heavens and earth into being.
The Word, is the word God spoke: “Let there be light.” And there was light. This same Word, in the New Testament, “became flesh and walked among us, full of grace and truth.” [Jn 1:14]
The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the wind, breath and Wisdom of God, who stirred up the sea of non-existence and stuff started to happen.
I won’t go into all the details of why I think this is the case. Suffice it to say that the Bible tells us that both Wisdom and Word were with God since before the beginning of creation. Therefore, God is not having an identity crisis, nor is God using a “royal we.” Instead, God is having a holy conversation and creative play with God’s own self: Father Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Word, and Wisdom.
If you need to pause this video for a moment, and allow that to sink in, it’s perfectly okay. What I see happening in the first chapter of Genesis, is this: The Three-in-One God, whose identity is rooted in relationship, creates humankind whose identity as a reflection of the Divine image, is also rooted in relationship.
To state it in its simplest terms, it’s the difference between “me” and “we.” If I, personally, am created in the image of God, as a singular work of art, then at some point I will assume that I know what God is thinking. I know what God likes and dislikes. That, my friends, is a slippery slope.
It causes well-intentioned Christians to create God in their imageather than the other way around. Suddenly, the list of who God loves becomes smaller and smaller, while the list of who God hates becomes bigger and bigger. I don’t have to go into all the gory details. Attend a Pride Festival and you’ll see folks holding signs with HUGE lists of everyone God hates. Trust me, I’m not the only one on the list.
Somehow, I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he told us that the greatest commandments are to love God, and love our neighbors as our selves. This is what can happen when we assume that our individual selves are created in the image of God.
But what if we look at this differently? What if we conclude that, collectively, we are made in the image of God? How does that change the way we look at ourselves and our relationships with others? What if each of us is a piece of the puzzle, whose image we cannot fully see until we are assembled together? (Boom!) Mind sufficiently blown!
I think you probably know where I’m going with this! The reason why we’re in such a mess as a nation right now, besides hundreds of years of systemic oppression against Black people, has to do with “me” verses “we.”
Until we are able to see the image of God in our black and brown siblings, we will never appreciate the beauty and the complexity of the Three-In-One God, in whose image we’re created, together. Each of us reflects a piece of who God is. If one of us is missing, it’s not a complete picture. If one of us is ripped from the puzzle, be it by violence or oppression, we will not appreciate the complexity of God who Is in holy conversation with God’s self, and desires us to be in holy conversation with one another.
I cannot fully understand what it’s like to be Black in America. But as a gay man I’ve been on the receiving end of hate speech and discrimination. So I do have a small inkling of what that feels like. Because my Black siblings are hurting and grieving, I grieve along with them. I stand in solidarity with them. I know that my understanding of who God is, and what it means to be human, is not complete without them, since we are created in the image of God, together. Therefore, it’s time for me to check my racist attitudes, be they hidden or revealed. It’s time for me to work for justice alongside of those who have been oppressed for far too long.
Furthermore, it’s been hard to watch the Facebook live streams from downtown Asheville over the past week. I’ve seen a lot of peaceful protestors, but I’ve also watched others deface our city with graffiti and break store windows. I’ve watched protestors hurl water bottles and fire crackers at police officers. But also watched police officers use tear gas rubber bullets on protestors.
ALL of these people are literally my neighbors since I live downtown. All of these people are collectively created in God’s image. I don’t know what to do with what I’m feeling this week. I don’t know how we heal the hurts we’ve all inflicted on each other. So, I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m praying. And I trust that the Three-in-One God will lead us forward into a better, kinder, and more just society. We’ve got a lot of work to do, my friends. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
As I bring my thoughts to a close, I know most of you who are watching this video are white. My appeal to us white folk is to refrain from finger-pointing, judging and blaming, and, instead, just shut up and listen. Listen to the stories of our black and brown siblings. Feel their pain. Learn from their experience. And, most of all, become better allies. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. It’s that simple. It’s that hard.
I know I have a long way to go in order to change my “me” to a “we.” Perhaps you do, too. Let’s work together to make sure everyone is at that Table, so we can form a beautiful, collective portrait of the Divine image. Amen.
Copyright ©2020 by David Eck