Scriptures: Genesis 1:26-31; 2:1-4
I want to begin this morning with a scene from the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. In this episode Raymond’s young daughter Ally asks him, “Why are there babies?” Thinking that she is asking about sex, Raymond has a sneezing attack and has to leave the room. But his wife prods him to go back and answer her question. So armed with several books about sex he goes in to have “the talk” with his daughter. And that’s where our scene begins.
[Show 4 minutes from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j4iMm4yz8I]
[Description of the scene if the video does not work out: He comes into Ally’s room and says, “I guess you have some questions about babies.” “Yeah,” she says, “why are there babies?” He says, “Well, when a man and woman love each other they get married, and then sometimes they decide to make a baby.” His daughter interrupts and says, “I already know where babies come from. I was wondering why they are here at all. Why did God put us here?” Raymond looks at her and says, “What?” She says, “Why are we here?” He says, “Don’t you want to talk about sex?” She says, “No, I’m wondering why God put us here.” Raymond looks at her and then starts sneezing.]
The Bible, I am glad to say, is not afraid to discuss why we are here. In fact the answer to that question begins in the very first chapter.
I am going to spend the next several minutes in a rather intense Bible study, so stay with me. This may seem a little dry and academic, but it gets to the heart of why we are here.
First, let’s look at Genesis 1:26-27 [Slide 1]:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; …. So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them.
What does it mean that we are created in the image and likeness of God? It can’t mean we look like God. The Bible is adamantly opposed to making any image that claims to look like God or be God. So what does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of God?
Well, there is another place in Genesis where these same two words are used: Genesis 5:3 [Slide 2]; “When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Here we have the same Hebrew words as in Genesis 1. Adam became the father of a child in his image and likeness. Did that mean the child looked exactly like Adam or represented Adam? No, it meant that they belonged to the same species. There was a relationship between Adam and his son unlike the relationship Adam had with other animals—a relationship that allowed them to be a family.
So what does it mean that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God? It means we are created capable of a relationship to God. We are created to be part of God’s family.
God demonstrates this in Genesis 1:29 [Slide 3]: “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” At this point I am not interested in the dietary issues posed by this verse. That is another subject. What interests me is the way God speaks directly to humans in this verse. God speaks to humans in a different way than God speaks to other parts of creation. Earlier in chapter 1 God says things like, “Let there be light … let the waters be gathered together into one place … let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Elsewhere in Genesis 1 God speaks the world into existence; but here God speaks personally to the man and woman as an “I” speaking to a “you.” God does this all through the rest of the Bible. Unlike other creatures God addresses humans personally as an “I” speaking to a “you.” That’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God: God can talk to us, and we can talk back.
Which brings me to another astonishing detail in verse 26: how God uses the plural. [Slide 4]. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” Who is “us”? We are not told. Many Bible scholars suggest it refers to the heavenly host, the angels. Others say it is a plural of deliberation, like a Presidential candidate saying, “We are taking our message across the country.” The candidate means, “I am taking my message across the country,” but the candidate uses “we” and “our” makes it sound like the candidate is part of something bigger.
Of course a classic Christian answer is that God refers here to the Trinity. When God says, “Let us make humans in our image,” God is referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I cannot prove which of these interpretations is correct, but they all assume that God is not a solo act. From the very beginning God is a relational God, and in creation God invites human beings into that relationship. [Slide 5: Blank]
And that brings me to one final peculiarity about this chapter. Why does it describe creation as happening in seven days? Some take this literally. They say the Bible describes creation happening in seven days because that’s how it happened. God created everything in seven 24-hour periods. Of course science disagrees, and those who take this chapter literally are forced into some bizarre explanations of why some fossils appear millions of years older than other fossils.
But that debate misses the point. The Bible is not talking here about seven 24-hour periods. That is obvious when you look at verse 14 [Slide 6]: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years.” Here in verse 14 God creates the sun and the moon, specifically to be markers of time. But here is the strange thing: verse 14 is the fourth day of creation. God does not created the sun until the fourth day! So what does a day mean if the sun has not yet been created? [Slide 7: Blank]
It has to have a symbolic meaning. The seven days of creation mean that the creation is headed toward a climax—a destination—which is the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest and worship. The whole point of creation is so that we can rest in God’s love and celebrate our life with God forever. Or as the Presbyterian Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: “The chief end of people is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
That’s the Bible’s answer to Ally’s question. Why are we here? We are not put here because there is overcrowding in heaven. Nor is our purpose to accomplish something before we die. Our purpose is relational: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s why we are here, not to accomplish something, not to prove something, but to love someone beginning with our Creator, and in the process to let our Creator love us.
A few months before she died, I had a conversation with Beverly Klose, one of our members at Wesley Gardens. Beverly was fairly discouraged that day. Her eyesight had gotten so bad she could no longer read, which she loved to do. In fact it had gotten so bad she could hardly see to get around her apartment, and she was beginning to trip on things and fall, which made her feel even more helpless. But it wasn’t feeling helpless that really got her down. It was feeling useless. She said to me, “I don’t know why I’m still around; I’m not good for anything anymore.” Actually I have known numerous people in the later years of their lives who said something like that to me. “I don’t know why I’m still here; I’m not good for anything anymore.”
So I said to Beverly, “Can you still pray?” She said, “Of course. I pray every day.” I said, “Then keep praying, because there is no better gift you can give to God or to us.”
That’s what it means to be created in the image of God. You are here for a purpose: not to accomplish something but to love someone—to love God with all your heart and to love the other people God puts in your life. That is your purpose, a purpose so great not even an eternity will make you obsolete.