Genesis 1:26 – 2:7
June 17, 2007 - Third Sunday after Pentecost
The Creation of Human Beings
Our belief that God is our creator is included in the general theology of creation. Our own selves are part of the larger picture that God is the maker of everything in heaven and earth. But now we focus specifically on what it means to say that God created us, that human beings depend for their existence on the same creative Word that made stars and dust mites.
The implications of the fact that God created us are both heartening and frightening. As a unique creation of God, we are elevated to a status that brings honor even to the lowest person in the order of society. Yet, made by God, our status is that of “creatures;” we are not our own. We do not belong to ourselves, but to God. That means we are not the masters of our own fate, not the captains of our private ships. We owe our lives to One who has the deepest possible claim on us.
Theological anthropology is the Christian doctrine of what it is to be human. Because the truth about us is God’s truth, wherever it is found, our doctrine and self-understanding may be informed by secular disciplines of anthropology, sociology, psychology and the like. But we believe that the basic starting point for understanding ourselves is the Scriptural revelation that we exist because God made and delights in us.
Ultimately, Biblical doctrine about human beings will focus on the fact that we are created in God’s image. We consider how sin damages, but does not erase, God’s image in us and how it is restored by the work of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect human being. Theological anthropology leads us toward doctrines of sin, salvation, and sanctification.
The bare fact, however, that God made us is a source of great insight and self-understanding. By accepting His role in our existence, we appreciate the value God places on us. From the beginning, He labored over us. He made us last in the order of creation, as the crown of what He made. In the course of human history, He has not abandoned us, His creation. This value which God places on us is the true source of all human worth and self-esteem. Our modern sense that we need to cultivate in children and ourselves a good “self-image” is actually a call for the teaching that God is our Creator.
Our worth to God is stamped on us like a price tag by the truth that our Lord valued us enough to pay the price of His own Son for us. If the mere fact of our creation were not enough to give us worth, through our redemption in Jesus Christ God has marked us as so valuable that we are worth even His own life. The coming of Jesus is sometimes called the “new creation.” It is especially the new creation of humanity, remaking us, as we learned this spring, into the people God means for us to be. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, God raised our value as He created us again.
Good but not yet great—that’s the first five and half days of creation. Sun, moon, stars, water, land, plants and trees, birds and fish, every other animal on the earth—they’re all just “good,” tov in Hebrew in Genesis 1:4 and 10 and 12 and 18 and 21 and 25. But when human beings are finally made, when we come to the end of the chapter in verse 31, it’s not just good, not just tov anymore. It’s tov me’od, “very good.” With people like you and me on the scene, God’s work is not merely good, it’s very good, it’s great. That’s the value God saw added to creation when He made us.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks of God’s tender care for birds and flowers, how He feeds them and dresses them in beauty. They are good, they are worthwhile in His eyes. Yet He says twice, “how much more,” how much more are you worth to God? How much more does He want to tenderly care for you, feed you, clothe you, bless you with all you truly need? How much more? From the very beginning God our heavenly Father values us and sees us as worth more than all the rest of creation. But why?
Why does God like us so much? Far too much of the time we don’t even like ourselves or each other. We may be more valuable than the rest of creation, but instead of caring for it and tending it, we ruin it. God told us to rule over His good world, but we rule with heavy and thoughtless hands. We rip resources from the hillsides and replace them with our garbage. We burn wood and coal and oil to keep warm and cool until what we send into the air upsets the temperature balance of the whole earth. And rushing down the road to get where we want to be, we crush tiny creatures like squirrels and larger ones like deer which blunder into our path. And we exploit and murder each other. What’s so good about us? What value do we add to this world? Why does God like us?
Maybe you have an old car. You liked it once, but now it’s nothing but trouble. Every other week something else gives out. You repaired and replaced every possible part: tires, shocks, brakes, belts, hoses, water pump, alternator, the works. Just last week you plunked down $267.00 for a complete tune-up, oil change, air filter, whatever it needed. Now it’s 7:52 in the morning and you’re supposed to be at work in eight minutes and the thing won’t start. Wouldn’t you give up? Sell the thing? Trade it in? Give it to charity? Take it out some night, park it on a dark street, and walk away? Wouldn’t you?
More to the point are relationships with others. You fill in the blank: a husband, a wife, a child, a parent, an employee, an employer, a friend. You’ve tried. You’ve talked, you’ve sought mediation, you’ve gone to counseling, you’ve been caring, you’ve been kind, you’ve tried “tough-love,” you’ve tried everything. And he or she still ignores you, abuses you, criticizes you, disobeys you, or makes your life miserable in some other way. Wouldn’t you give up? See your lawyer? Change the locks? Quit your job? Change your phone number? Wouldn’t you? I would. But God doesn’t.
God likes us. He puts up with us. He continues to see value in us even when we see no value in ourselves. Why? Why should He care? Why does He think you and I are valuable?
You might think God values us because we are truly valuable, because we have some intrinsic worth. God must be a pretty shrewd speculator, and if He invests in human beings, they must be worth it. We have something to offer Him. But Genesis rubs our noses in the fact that in and of ourselves we are worthless.
In chapter 2 of Genesis, the second time the creation story is told, God makes a human being out of dust, the dust of the ground, plain old dirt. That’s what “Adam” means in Hebrew, “ground,” “earth,” “dirt.” God made a human being out of dirt and named him “Dirt.” A human body is a tiny handful of simple elements, the price of which wouldn’t buy you lunch off the 99 cent menu at McDonalds.
We aren’t exactly precious stuff. Nor do we necessarily have other qualities that make us worth something to God. The record of human history is that by ourselves we don’t do much that’s worthwhile. God gave the first human beings just one rule to live by, one boundary not to cross, one sin not to commit. Almost immediately they turned around and broke that one rule. That’s still the way we behave. We’re not worth all the trouble.
We’re not even cute. Once our daughters were two-year olds. I believe one of the ways God preserved the human race is by making two-year olds unbelievably cute. If they weren’t so cute they wouldn’t last a minute. They drive you crazy. Turn your back for a moment and there’s orange juice all over the kitchen table. There’s a library book scribbled in. There’s all the cushions pulled off the couch. There’s your cell phone flushed down the toilet. When you want quiet she’s screams, and when you want her to sing “Jesus Loves Me” on the phone to Grandma she clams up. And just when you’ve had more than you think you can take; when you’re standing there surveying the damage and reckoning the punishment she crawls between your legs, looks up at you and says “Hi Daddy!” What can you do?
Cuteness saves two-year olds, but God knows us better than that. I know that I’m not cute. God has not put up with sinful, rebellious, angry, mean people like me for thousands of years because we’re so sweet and cuddly. Auschwitz and Hiroshima, Bosnia and Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq. No we are not very cute, not even to God.
The value God places on us is literally just that: a value that He places on us. He gives us a worth we don’t have in and of ourselves. All that is worthwhile in you and me is a gift from God. That’s what our reading from Psalm 100 today means. “It is He who made us, and not we ourselves.” It’s what our verses from Psalm 139 mean, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are made. We made valuable. Our value does not come from ourselves. We did not make ourselves. If we have value, it’s because God made us.
Turn to number 217 in our Covenant Hymnal. There you will find Isaac Watt’s grand hymn, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed.” But it’s not as he wrote it. The very first verse is,
Ala! and did my Savior bleed and did my sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?
But Watts wrote, “Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” But in this day of concern about self-worth and personal image nobody really wants a reminder that we came from the ground. Nobody wants to recall that in relation to God’s own grandeur and holiness we are like worms, or worse.
No, God in Jesus Christ did not die for worms. He didn’t die for birds. We are more important to Him. He said so. To God you and I are worth “much more” than any bird, more than the grass, maybe more than anything else in creation. True, we’re not worms. But we can’t take the credit for that. We’re not worms because He made us something more. We’re better than birds because the God who made worms and birds and sea lions decided that human beings were the neatest thing He ever made. Our worth didn’t come from us, it came from Him.
God values us just because He made us. You have a feeling for that whenever you make something. You drive the last nail, sew the last stitch or write the last word. Then you sit back and appreciate what you’ve done. God appreciates His handiwork in us. He values us like you value a project to which you gave hours and hours. As the product of God’s creativity, we are the object of His affection. God loves us because He made us, not because we are beautiful, or smart, or nice, or even worth very much.
If we believe in the worth God places on us by being our maker it changes the way we want to live. That’s why the writer of Psalm 100 told us to, “Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us.” That’s why Jesus explained to His disciples their worth to God. It makes a difference. It’s why the writer of Genesis spends so much time on the creation of human beings.
As Watts’ hymn wonderingly explores, the truly amazing thing is that God placed such value, such worth on you and me, that He was willing to die for us. When stormy skies have you questioning the value of yourself, of your life and accomplishments in this world, that thought of what you are worth to God can be a safe harbor of calm and peace.
Believing that God created you and values you brings you always back to that place of peace and safety. He gave you worth and even when you throw it away, turn your back on Him and behave like someone worthless, He wants to give it back. He created us, so we belong to Him. But even when we refuse to belong to Him, He keeps loving us. And He paid the price for us to belong to Him again.
We are like stolen merchandise. Like your hubcaps that disappear one day and show up at the pawn shop or the junk yard waiting for you to buy them back. Our maker and owner is willing to pay for us all over again to get us back. But we ourselves are the thieves. We belong to God but we’ve stolen ourselves away from Him, pretending we belong just to ourselves. But in the Cross of Jesus Christ, God was willing to buy us back. Because we are worth it to Him.
To God, you are worth all His trouble. You are worth His pain. You are worth the price. He values you. That’s a thought to tuck away and then pull out in your worst and darkest moments. That the He would devote that sacred head for such a worm as I.
But to slightly paraphrase C. S. Lewis in his profound and beautiful speech “The Weight of Glory,” it may be possible for us to think too much of our own worth. It is easy in this selfish and individualistic world to become far too focused on our own value. It is not just possible, but even likely that by thinking often of our own worth to God that we will slide into the errors of pride and self-glory and the belief that we are, deep down and in ourselves, pretty good people after all.
As Lewis says in similar words, it may be possible for us to think too much of our own worth; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about the worth of our neighbors. That is where I want to bring you this morning, to considering, feeling, and caring about the worth God places on the people who are all around you.
As middle class Americans we need the thought that God is not just interested in people like us, people who live in homes and talk on cell phones and play sports and surf the web. People like us need Jesus, but we’re not it, we’re not the only ones. We’re certainly not the ones who need Him most.
Tom, an art professor at Westmont College, once talked to us about being the produce man in a grocery store. It was his job to keep the stacks of fruit and vegetables looking good. Every day he sorted through and picked out the bad pieces: the wrinkled cucumbers, the tomatoes with spots, the bruised peaches. He tossed them in cardboard box and carried it to the store’s dumpster, leaving behind gleaming and perfect stacks of green and red and yellow produce.
But then, said Tom, a couple of times a week the garbage man pulled up. Before he maneuvered the truck’s fork under the dumpster to lift upside down and drop the garbage in the truck, he would poke around until he found those discarded boxes of produce. He would sort through them and find a cucumber that was three quarters fresh or a peach with only a small spot on it. He would take his treasures and set them carefully up on the front seat of next to where he sat. Then he dumped the garbage.
Jesus is that garbage man. He sorts through the people the rest of the world might think trash and finds something, finds someone worth saving. More than that, He finds people that are not worth saving and saves them anyway. He makes them worth it. That’s how He saved me. That’s how He saved you. That’s a good thought. But as Lewis tells us, an even better thought now may be that He might want to save someone else.
All around us people are thrown into the dumpsters of the world. Small boys are impressed into mercenary armies in Africa. Baby girls are aborted and murdered in China. Women are abused in every country of the world, including our own. Old people are shuffled away and forgotten in nursing homes. Transients are handed bus tickets out of town. A little boy whose father I overheard in a store was told how stupid he is and how much trouble he causes. Strange and difficult mentally ill men and women knock on church doors. We can think too much about ourselves, but we can’t think too much about them.
God values you. To Him, you were worth it all, the pain, the suffering, the dying of the Cross. It was all because of your worth. It is so, so true, and if it’s the word you need today, then please take it with you, believe it with all your heart, seek Jesus’ love and forgiveness and find the worth you have in Him.
But don’t forget, please don’t forget that God made all people with that same worth, that same value. Live out not just your own worth to God, but their worth, the worth of people who feel like dirt. And so they are, but we are all dirt. Genesis 2:7 can be read “And the Lord God formed the dirt from the dust of the ground and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, and the dirt became a living soul.” Living souls out of dirt. Good fruit out of garbage. Men and women and children out of poverty and disease and violence. That’s what God is making. Let’s be part of that creation.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj