One of the things that gets lost in the origins debate is the role assigned to humans in Genesis One. We are:
- Like the animals, commanded to be fruitful and multiply;
- Given the charge of subduing and ruling creation;
- Created male and female;
- Created in the image of God.
The most important of the four is that we are created in the image of God. “All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation as God’s vice regent.” (Walton, 68) In other words, we represent God to creation, ruling it and caring for it as he would. This, of course, has many ecological implications, but I’d like to stick with the theological implications for now.
Humans are not assigned such a high place in the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors. In fact, the purpose of humanity was to serve as the slaves of the gods. We are here to see to it that all of the gods’ needs are taken care of. Creation has been made in order to serve the needs and pleasures of the gods, and humans are often a most despicable byproduct of some great cosmic battle, being made from the blood of some horrible chaos monster. “In the rest of the ancient world creation was set up to serve the gods, a theocentric view, in Genesis, creation is not set up for the benefit of God but for the benefit of humanity—an anthropocentric view.” (69)
If creation is anthropocentric, it is because God has no need of creation. That is to say, he is distinct from creation. All the other ancient cultures viewed creation as an extension of a greater, unseen, and truer reality—the realm of the gods. (see also, The Bible Among the Myths by John Oswalt) Therefore, what happens on earth is happening in the truer, invisible reality. But the genius of Genesis One is that it establishes the transcendence of God—the teaching that he is distinct and above creation. He has created this world not for himself, but for us.
Rather than being an inferior copy of a greater, unseen reality, God elevates the state of creation by making it his temple! On the seventh day he moves into his temple because, as Walton points out, divine rest always takes place in a temple. Now, every temple has an image of the god to whom that temple belongs. And what is the image in God’s temple? Humans!
The images of all the other gods are made of wood or stone. They can’t move, speak, or think. But the image of God is made of flesh and blood, and they can run and speak and write and think and choose and love! The image of God is alive! How much greater than all the other gods is that God whose image is alive. The nonfunctional, nonexistent images of the other gods imply that those gods do not exist. The living, breathing image of YHWH God means that he is alive!