By Carolyn Custis James
This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
The Blessed Alliance, Week 2
On April 15, 2019, disaster struck in Paris when the world-renowned Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. The cathedral spire collapsed; fire damage to the structure and interior were extensive. In the aftermath donors, skilled architects, computer technology experts, and construction workers joined forces to undertake the daunting task of restoring this once breathtaking historic landmark. Any photographs, architectural drawings, and computerized specifications of the original structure will be indispensable. The goal is not to modernize, but to recover what original architects had in mind when construction on the cathedral started back in 1163.
Christians face a similar problem. We live in the ruins of a broken world. We can sift all we want through the rubble to scavenge scraps and clues of the world as it was meant to be, and more importantly to tell us who we are and how we are to live in God’s world. But the damage is so severe, so comprehensive, even our best efforts will always fall short.
But here’s the good news: we have the blueprints! We’ve had them in our possession all along. Genesis 1-2 contain God’s vision for the world he created—God’s Master Plan for all creation including his revolutionary vision for all humanity and his vision is loaded with vital information that changes everything. It’s the only pre-fall text we have, so it rewards a close look.
In the field of higher education, scholars Jan Meyer and Ray Land coined the expression “threshold knowledge. . . . core concepts that once understood, transform perception of a given subject.” [i] The first words of the Bible deliver vital threshold knowledge: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Standing on the threshold of human history, the Bible does not leave us guessing at whose world this is or who stands at the center. Miss or forget this one point, and everything that follows is wildly off-course. Genesis 1:1 establishes the Creator God as the uncontested referent for all reality, including what it means to be human. This is God’s vision for human beings without exception and for his kingdom on earth.
At the climactic moment of creation, God brings human beings into his story and defines every person throughout human history from their first to final breath. The earth should shake beneath us every time we read the plan God reveals for humanity.
“Let us make human beings[ii] in our image, in our likeness, so 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” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added).
In so few words, first God anchors our identity, meaning, and purpose in himself. He makes knowing him our first assignment and highest priority. We can’t “be like” someone we don’t know. The imago dei certainly ascribes inestimable value to every human life from first to last breath, but it is not a fait accompli. We have to work at it. It means we need to make God our study to understand his heart for the world and to represent him. God is calling us to relationship, swinging wide a door that only opens from the inside, and giving us plenty of information for starters as we witness him in creative action.
Second, it means everything we do or say—whether great or small—matters profoundly. We never just act for ourselves. It makes it impossible to live an insignificant life. We bear God’s image. His reputation is on the line in how we live and interact with others. People are supposed to find out what God is like by rubbing shoulders with us[This] places us at the center of what God is doing in the world—not as spectators, but as kingdom agents and as leaders with responsibility for what is happening around us. . . we are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, his voice in this world.”
—Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (56-57)
That’s a lot, but it’s only a start. There’s more to God’s vision. . .
[i] Jan H. F. Meyer and Ray Land, “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge—Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising,” in Improving Student Learning—Theory and Practice Ten Years On, ed. C. Rust (Oxford: Oxford Center for Staff and Learning Development, 2003), 412–24.
[ii] The Hebrew term ’adam is translated “human beings” because when it is used with the definite article “the” (as it is here), it is not referring to males, but generically to human beings. Some recent English translations have insisted on perpetuating the archaic translation, “man.” But that is misleading and actually makes “nonsense of the last clause of verse 27” that further defines the meaning of the terms as including “male and female.” Robert Alter, Genesis—Translation and Commentary (New York: Norton, 1996), 9.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.