Imagine you are a farmer in ancient Babylon.
The gods, who were at war, have lain down their swords for a short time, ending the famine that took nearly everything from you — including your youngest daughter — and harvest has finally come.
Day and night you break your back stripping grain from stock until all is rendered. Next, you spend weeks piling what is fair to keep and what is owed, until finally, the King’s men arrive.
They take more than what is owed, for the King, image of the gods, has decreed a new famine for the gods are angry.
What more could you expect if the gods brought this world to life by the violence of Marduk, who slew the great sea, Tiamat the dragonness. And he who wrought the sea in half to make land and sky also murdered the god who’s blood with the dirt became man. And man, who exists only to feed the gods until they return once again to the dirt.
You can hear the hammers working as another statue of the king is erected just yards from your home.
An image of the god-king to remind you who possesses the image of the gods.
And so you begin work again to the little hope that you will ever amount to more than one who feeds the gods with grain and, sometimes, if the gods be gluttonous, the starving children who wail into the night.
There’s a story behind everything.
In the ancient world the image of God was a way of talking about the king. The King, and the King alone, possessed the image of the gods.
This is why you listened to his decrees.
This is why your sons joined and died in his armies.
This is why you worship him.
This is why you bring him your food.
Not only was the world built from violence, humanity was fashioned into existence for the sole purpose of slave labor.
When the Hebrew Bible talks about the image of God (we’ll touch on this soon) it uses the word TSELEM.
A TSELEM, in the biblical scope, is an idol, or an image. Most often a statue, they were spread all over the realm of the kingdom to remind all residence who ruled this land.
That’s the story behind most of the ancient world. Well, except for one: Israel.
You see, Israel not only didn’t see their king as the only possessor of God’s image, they were never supposed to make images of God.
This is because anything rendered to represent God will ultimately be less than God, or otherwise incapable of representing God in the way in which God wants to be represented.
Another important reason, as the The Bible Project guys put so well, “People aren’t to make images of God because God has already made images of himself.”
(Check out their insightful video on the Image of God here)
The opening pages of the Hebrew Bible were revolutionary in the way they talked about the image of God.
Let there be…
It was good
There was evening and there was morning
And in the midst of this song, the author moves to a bridge, the great climax:
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27, CEB)
Humanity. All of humanity.
Every. Male. And. Female.
Men and women, the images of God, the peasant Kings and Queens of the dirt beneath our feet.
Can you see how revolutionary this would have been? It’s revolutionary today. Try and step into this story for a moment.
Imagine the whip cracking against your back, demanding you make bricks faster, and all you can think is surely it wasn’t meant to be this way.
Imagine you’re in the depths of exile in a pagan nation who sing songs of your God’s defeat, you might think: surely it wasn’t meant to be this way.
Imagine you’re part of the greatest empire of the world, where freedom rings in the heavens, but everything that you, and your family, are is deemed as lesser, as if you lack the image of God. You would think: it’s not supposed to be like this.
Imagine you’re the one with the boot on someone’s neck. Deep down, even underneath all of your privilege and power, you surely must be thinking: this isn’t okay.
The image of God endowed to kings meant all serve the king.
The image of God endowed to all people means all serve each other.
This acts directly against the narrative that says only the elite possess the image of God. This sparks revolution against the story behind everything that says violence and slave labor are the backbone to life.
That isn’t the song the Gardener is whistling as he works.
This God has a different vision for the world: community built on creativity and mutual service and love.
The first thing these new creatures are commissioned to do is this: fill the earth, rule and subdue it.
We are Kings and Queens of the dirt beneath our feet. We are Kings and Queens with shovels, commissioned to reflect the Gardener to the world.
Fashioned in the Image if God, we are to reflect this God who gardens.
And according to this ancient story behind everything: we’ve got work to do.
Until next time, everybody, keep living questionably!
NEXT TIME: we explore the theology behind a nasty, socially unaccounted word (pardon my language): WORK