We’re just over a month away from Christmas, the celebration of the day that the Christ was born to Mary in human form. That moment is undoubtedly one of the most significant encounters with God recorded in the Bible or anywhere else in human history, but it is not the only one.
In the weeks around Christmas, I want to go elsewhere in the Bible and look at the other encounters that humanity has had with God throughout history so that as we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we can maybe catch just a glimpse of the amazing, heartbreaking, hopeful story that is the relationship between the triune God and his creation.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that 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.’
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
Genesis 2:7, 15-17, 21-22
“The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being […] The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘you are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’. […] The Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”
The first encounter
I can’t think of many other recorded encounters between God and humanity that have sparked quite so much thought and debate, particularly in the post-Enlightenment era where a more scientific lens has been applied to the text than there ever was before that time.
The passages that I quoted above have been dissected time and again as evidence for points regarding how the world was created, what God’s ideals for gender were before the fall, and what humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation should look like.
All of those discussions are worth having, but they’re not what I want to talk about today. As tempting as it is to dive into something controversial (maybe one day), this post is about celebrating God’s encounters with humanity.
We’re made in his image
God created us in his image. We could endlessly argue about what that exactly means, but I’d prefer to consider the beautiful – and challenging – truth. Human beings carry the fingerprints, the image, of God in a unique way that nothing else on Earth does. That’s beautiful and profound.
What’s so heartbreaking is that we can treat each other as if we’re nothing but the dust we were created from.
Racism isn’t dead.
Sexism isn’t dead.
Homophobia isn’t dead.
Slavery isn’t dead.
I could go on.
In light of recent global events, many of these issues have been thrust into the limelight anew, and it is not an appropriate response to pretend that they don’t matter.
If I claim to follow Jesus then I can’t say nothing as humans who bear the image of God are trodden on. As a straight white man in a middle-class job in the UK, I don’t know what it is to be marginalised. As a follower of Christ, I can commit to giving human beings the value that God created them with. I might not always get it right – there’s a lot that I don’t understand – but I can try. I’m willing to learn what more I can do to love my fellow humans.
The breath of life
Genesis 2 says that God breathed into us the breath of life, yet another beautiful image of our creation. Christians affirm that the Bible is ‘God-breathed’, but how often do we describe ourselves in the same way? It’s just as Biblical.
If my rudimentary knowledge of Biblical language serves me, the breath of God is directly related to his Spirit, which makes this image profoundly intimate. I can’t quite articulate my thoughts on this – all I can say that if there ever was an image appropriate for demonstrating that we were made for relationship with God than this. If we deny God then we are denying the life that we were created with.
The image again shows the value that humanity has as God’s creation. Thinking about this just makes me long to see more of the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about – a Kingdom based not on the artificial structures of human civilisation that so often oppress and harm, but on the value and the life that God breathed into all humanity.
As Christmas approaches, let’s remember how precious each human being is to God, even as we celebrate the birth of the man who upheld the marginalised more than anyone ever has before or since.