“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of heaven, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that moves on the earth.’ So God made man; in the image of God He made them; male and female He made them. Then God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it ...” Genesis 1:26-28 (OSB)
On the sixth day of God’s creative work, after God has formed the created world, given it its structure and in-built potential, and filled it with good things, God makes something unique: Humanity. Humanity alone bears the personal imprint of Divinity; humanity alone mediates between the spiritual and material realms; humanity alone is logikos “rational,” akin to the Logos/Word himself (Jn 1.1).
The “image of God”—certainly one of the defining principles of Western civilization—is both a “state” and a “calling.” That is, it refers equally to something that we are (our being or “ontology”) and something we are to do. In our very being and activity, humanity is to represent and fulfill the kingly rule of God in and over creation, continuing God’s creative work by keeping the forces of chaos at bay as we maintain the “social-moral” order of creation. And by “cultivating” and “filling the earth,” both literally and in the spiritual cultivation of our souls such that we bear “fruit” and “offspring” in the virtues and prayer. Humanity is equally a priestly race, created to lead creation in worship of the Triune God (cf. “Let US make”), to offer all of creation back to God in thanks (evcharistia) and glory (doxa) (cf. Rom 1.21) as humans offer themselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12.1).
Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee in behalf of all and for all.
(cf. 1 Chron 29.14)
This is our calling; this is our dignity; this is our purpose. Without which human life becomes a fleeting vapor, of 70, maybe 80, years and then nothing (except a "fearful expectation of judgment" [Heb 10.27]). Such is what Adam & Eve will discover: forsaking the glory of God that He shares freely with humans, and turning downward to worship creation rather than the Creator, humanity fragments and descends towards nothingness, "non-being" (Rom 1-3). It is only through Christ—Who is Himself the Image/Icon of God in which we were created (2 Cor 4.4; Col 1.15; 3.10)—that humanity can be restored again to its proper place and function, as we are “transformed” and “conformed to the Image of [God’s] Son” (2 Cor 3.18; Rom 8.29).
For further reading & reflection:
- St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf205.x.ii.i.html)
- Andrew Louth, ed., Genesis 1-11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: OT 1; IVP, 2001), pp. 27-41.