In the Beginning

Genesis 1: 26 Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Genesis 1 is an extraordinarily rich passage, subtly introducing a number of key themes that emerge throughout the bible. In the extraordinary phrase “let us”, we see the earliest hint of the God revealed in Christ and through the Spirit... as a God whose very nature is relationship. The Christian view of God as Trinity, three persons in eternal relationship, is gently evoked by the remarkable phrase: “Let US make human beings”.

The idea that human beings are unique and incredibly precious is revealed by the extraordinary words: “Let us make human beings in our image”. Unlike all the other creatures, we humans are godlike. We bear the image of the invisible God. All Christian ethics emerge from the recognition that each person is of incredible value... image bearers of our Creator. To love God is to love others, just as we honour the children of the people we love.

Another extraordinary idea is that the image of God is “male and female”. The God whose very nature is eternal, loving relationship, has created us for relationship. We are somehow incomplete alone... indeed, there is at least an urban myth that babies who are fed but never held and loved simply die.

There is something holy about relationship... and about masculinity and femininity. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit complement one another, so males and females complement each other. This is an incredible mystery, complicated by sin and selfishness and misunderstanding and abuse of power... but still something of the goodness and glory of God is shown in a man and woman who truly love one another.

It seems to me a good start in gender relations is that terribly old-fashioned word “honour.” It’s a scarce commodity in a fallen world. Appalling jokes about the genders abound, and the pendulum has perhaps swung so far that some “stupid male” jokes have become even harsher than blonde jokes, mother in law jokes, etc. etc. I’ve been guilty of this at times too (well, some of them ARE funny). But behind the humour is a lack of respect, a lack of reverence for those God has created, a lack of honour for the Other made in the image of God. Dishonour spreads its unhealthy tentac les everywhere... dysfunctional relationships based on unequal and unfair power dynamics are not uncommon. On a far more serious level, domestic violence and sexual assault are huge issues in our society... an extreme form of dishonour for another.

Behind patriarchal oppression, behind abuse, behind unhealthy fighting, behind violence, behind “stupid man” jokes and “dumb blonde” jokes... there is always a lack of respect somewhere. A failure to love, a failure to honour, a failure to treasure the gift that is another.

We could do worse than to reflect on this passage, remembering that “male and female” together reflect the image of God.


Alan said…
Forgive a male intruder,but a couple of recent articles in 2 so called non religious journals,prompt some further reflection on Gen1:26.
On the one hand,Kathryn Joyce,in "The Purpose Driven Wife"(Mother Jones 5 March 2009)provides an insight into "biblical womanhood,conservative Christianity's answer to the womans movement"("Becoming a Titus 2 Woman"),which I suspect is more prevalent in Australian churches than we would like to think.
And on the other,New Internationalist's,"Maternal Mortality-The Facts".The whole issue of the March issue is given over to the desperate brutal plight of women.
Both articles confront churches,on the one hand with a distorted theology( "If you disobey your husband,you are indirectly shaking your fist at God".),and on the other,an unforgivable inaction and complacency.In terms of the latter,take a walk through the way our church,Janet,has responded to the situation of Aboriginal women.
Outside of blogs such as this one,the church to which we both belong,has no place for such exploration and reflection.
David said…
Thanks for the tip, Alan. If I were to join a church, you would recommend keeping well clear of your own?

The Bible does speak of wifely submission in unambiguous terms. Can you add a thought on this to complete your well written commentary on Genesis 1:26-28, Janet?
Janet Woodlock said…
Well, this post flushed out the gentlemen, eh?

You might need to give me a bit more background in relation to your comment Alan... ACCIM continues to do a fabulous job in the indigenous communities where it has a presence... although I admit communication about this hasn't been their forte.

I would certainly hope that through your local church, through the social justice network, through any resolutions you would like to develop for the annual conference, through support of ACCIM, and in other ways as a member of our churches, you would find space to respond to the big picture issues you raise.

I think there is a need to be clear on the difference between areas of concern and areas of responsibility. As a Christian, my areas of concern need to be the reign of God everywhere... global and local justice and shalom. As an employee of an organisation, my primary responsibility is to the affiliated churches of Vic/Tas... to serve and assist them. C of C Vic/Tas isn't a governmental lobby group, and it certainly isn't well resourced in terms of finance or property to run a lot of programs that are not connected directly with our churches. Nor does it have control over our affiliated churches... control goes in the other direction... we are there to serve them.

I'm sure we can think of people whose areas of concern have caused them to neglect their areas of responsibility... people who like one part of their job description so ignore another critical part of it (they tend to get the sack!) Or caring people who emotionally neglect their own families because they are so busy working for other causes... areas of responsibility get neglected because of an excessive focus on areas of concern. To use a very old-fashioned phrase, "the need is not the call".

I'm really only guessing what you would else you would like C of C's to do. I really don't think putting out motherhood statements does anything much other than make the organisations feel a bit self-righteous. Also, I think there have been more than enough patronising attempts to do things TO Aboriginal people... there's a certain amount of expertise involved in partnering WITH Aboriginal people. I think ACCIM does have this expertise, and I don't think I (or anyone within VicTas at the moment) currently do.

Hi David... how's your reading going? Mine's been very slack... I read some of your book amazed at the number of lame arguments for the existence of God that I'd never heard of before... apparently they've been of some importance in the past. Currently very bogged down in ancient Greek. Yeesh...

Patience... I am planning to comment about assorted women's issues from the bible (although I'm about to go on holidays, so it might take a while). To give a short and not very good answer...

Part of the curse outlined in Genesis 3 is that "your husband will rule over you". And hasn't that been the case in most societies... men are usually physically stronger than women and dominate them in most societies around the world.

Jesus came to restore the kingdom of God... to bring justice and peace, to undo the curse, to proclaim a kingdom where power and dominance were turned on their head, and instead where humility, surrendering power, and service where the highest values.

Paul gave some rather pragmatic advice in his letters in the context where the paterfamilaris (have I spelled that right?) had absolute power over his wife, children and slaves... Paul's concern was the spread of the gospel rather than an immediate overturning of the social order. The implications of the gospel itself, where men, women, slaves, free, Jews and Gentiles are all one in Christ Jesus and all equal before God would work out its subversive implications as more and more people embraced the way of Jesus. And indeed... thanks in part to the efforts of past evangelicals such as Wilberforce, it is now generally perceived as completely unacceptable that any human could own another in slavery. In the same way, I personally think it completely unacceptable that a man would "rule" his wife... although there are mad Christians running around who teach this.

More detail to come...
Janet Woodlock said…
A further thought for Alan... my old youth minister used to say the succinct but sage words: "he who has vision gets job"!

I'd love to have a coffee with you some time if you have any interest in being coached around the question of what you might do to work towards God's shalom on indigenous issues. Do have a play with the question: "If you could do anything for God, and knew you couldn't fail, what would it be?" This question gets pretty close to the heart of the "vocation" question.

Love Janet

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