As we reflect on the creation portion of the biblical narrative we can make the following observations and see the following implications for economics.
Observations (These are linked to my earlier post on creation near the start of this series.)
God ultimately owns all. The opening words of Genesis are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,…” “Heaven and earth” is a euphemism for "all that is." God alone is eternal. All that exists ultimately finds it source in God and belongs to God.
Creation is Good. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Creation has value because God values it.
Eikons on a Mission. God created humanity in God’s image. The Greek word for image is eikon from which we get “icon.” The kings of the Ancient Near East placed totems throughout the regions they controlled to symbolize their dominion over those regions. Adam and Eve, and later Noah, were given the mandate to multiply and “fill the earth.” This is almost certainly part of what this Genesis passage is alluding to in terms of creating humanity in God’s image. Later God charged Israel with the task of being the light of the world to the other nations so they would repent and become God’s eikons once again. Jesus last words were that Christians would be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. The biblical narrative ends with all the peoples of the earth in community with God as his eikons “filling the earth.”
The difference between God’s eikons and the eikons of earthly kings is that earthly eikons are inanimate. God’s eikons are animate and share an essence with God that distinguishes them from the rest of creation. In that human beings were made “from the dust of the earth” they have material essence that connects them with the material world and makes them “other than” God. Yet human beings are moral creatures with self-awareness. They have the capacity to make moral assessments that other creatures do not. Human beings have a capacity for reason and creativity that other creatures do not have. In this sense, they are similar to God and dislike the rest of creation.
Imago Dei: Individual and Communal. Adam and Eve had no sense of an autonomous self. They were created as individuals and as individuals they bore the imago Dei, the image of God. However, Genesis makes clear that Adam alone was incomplete. He needed Eve to have community and give full expression to the image of God. “The two becoming one” in Genesis 2 is symbolic of the trinity’s mystical community. Just as humanity is birthed out of the mystical community of the trinity, so are children born out of the mystical union of a man and a woman.
The individual is important and valued but is not complete apart from relationship. God created humanity to be in relationship with God, with himself, with others, and with creation. Individually and corporately, we are the image of God.
Missio Dei: The Call of Creation Stewardship. Humanity was made for the world. Humanity was placed in a position over creation and under God. Humanity was given dominion over the earth and expected to use humanity’s distinctive imago Dei attributes, like reason and creativity, to care for and creatively develop creation. It seems certain that as humanity expanded that this would have meant developing government and economic institutions in addition to the institution of the family. Thus, such institutions can be seen as part of God’s work in the world through humanity. The critical aspect that must not be forgotten is that it is indeed God’s work done in community with and through humanity. Use of creation for other than God’s ends is injustice. We have no choice about whether or not to be stewards. We can only choose just or unjust stewardship.
Progress. Most ancient cutlures viewed time as cyclical and religion was an exercise in honoring and reenacting cycles.The creation of the earth as described in Genesis is a sequential process by an orderly God. God told humanity to fill the earth and have dominon over it; a progressive undertaking. Genesis effectively introduces the idea of linear time with events moving toward some end.
- Ultimate ownership of everything belongs to God.
- Individual human beings were made in God’s image but as community human beings give the fullest expression of God’s image. Any elevation of either individuality or community over the other gives a distorted picture of humanity.
- Human beings, both as individuals and communities, were made for stewardship of the earth on behalf of, and in community with, the triune God.
- There is no choice about being stewards for God. There is only the choice of just or unjust stewardship.
- The created world is important because God made it and values it.
- Human economic work (production, distribution and consumption of goods and services; activity concerned with the material welfare of humankind) pre-dated the fall and is at the center of humanity’s purpose.
- There is linear time and an unfolding purpose for creation.