In the well-known passage in Genesis, “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’” (New King James Version Bible Genesis 1.26). It is a powerful and fundamental statement that came define humanity for millennia, that humans are a likeness of the Divine. However, we are not divine or perfect, but rather full of errors – biological, psychological, and moral among others. Furthermore, humans are often self-destructive, selfish, and lack awareness, both personal and global on the impact of taken actions.
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It poses an important question on how humans and God relate in the context of this juxtaposition that we are an image of God but also so imperfect. Humanity is created in the divine image of the Lord which enables to understand to some extent His complex design and serve as the agents of God’s work on Earth by having faith and loving God while helping fulfill His plan for all creation.
Agents of the Lord
From the early stages of the OT, humans are described as agents of the Lord. As mentioned, humans are created in the likeness of God, and for a specific purpose to “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1.26). This can be interpreted as humans being made as safekeepers of the Earth. Creation is a complex phenomenon that is recognized as everything ranging from a miracle to salvation. However, theological scholars agree that a harmonious world order was built in the very infrastructure of creation.
Therefore, human existence and practices of righteousness foster the integration of social and cosmic orders. If such God’s will and human righteousness are not followed, there are concrete consequences felt across created spheres. In the OT, aspects of nature, justice, and politics are part of the comprehensive order of creation. However, Yahweh is not the God of Creation not because He is the God of humans, but rather He is the God of human history, because he is the God of Creation (Fretheim 4-5).
The power of Creation plays the key role in forming the moral identity of communities of faith from the early history of the OT. Humanity relates to God in that the beings are both his servants and the most important agents of His faith on Earth. Certain events and persons have an absolutely close relationship with God, serving as His messengers. One common example in the Pentateuch books of the OT is Moses.
The story of the Exodus tells the sage of how the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians. God hears the cries of the oppressed and notices, intimately being involved in the suffering. Moses is selected by God to be a messenger and agent of God’s will to actively liberate the oppressed, “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3.14).
God offers protection, companionship, and support to those who believe in Him and worship. This represents a general tendency throughout both Old Testament and Christian history, God rarely intervenes in Earthly affairs through some divine events, but commonly through human action. Moses was one of these individuals that moved the historical process forward, a decisive agent (Herzog 259). As humans are made in the image of God and his highest creation, humanity despite all its flaws and weaknesses, is empowered and called upon by God to be the agents of His will.
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The Historical books of the OT are commonly less popular and drier than the canonically crucial Pentateuch books. However, they are important as they relay the history of what happened to the Israel nation and people after independence. In the book of Kings several narratives are told, but a crucial one is Israel’s search for its religious identity. The first chapters of Kings discuss the life of King David, and the latter talk about the reign of King Judah and others.
It is important to note that the kings are evaluated not by their socio-political accomplishments but from a theological perspective. A substantial part of Kings focuses on Ephraim, which has to make the decision of whether Yahweh is their God, or will it worship other deities such as the Baals. It challenges the question of who God is and how is he related to human beings. The narrative describes the stories of how Yahweh is the all-powerful God, but people are not willing to accept that point. Elijah and Elisha are shown to be representatives of God, practically His embodiment and exercising his power and judgment, and therefore the attitude of the people toward them is their attitude towards God (Goldingay 194).
Kings demonstrates a certain relationship between humans and God where both the free determination of human beings is explored in juxtaposition of God’s involvement in socio-political life. God brings judgement on politics and can get things done despite deliberate human acts. Eventually, when Jerusalem falls, it was largely due to the issue that the people failed to worship Yahweh or did in the wrong way, brought disaster upon the nation (Goldingay 195).
It creates a complex precedent that humans are expected to live in the manner that God wants and not stray into territory of denial or worship of other deities. It is also symbolical of the relationship which forms when there is no direct messenger like Moses, but rather there are leaders who are either with God or choose to turn away from Him through their actions, but God gets things done, nevertheless. This is an interesting theme to explore since religion in modern politics is not as prevalent but remains a common mention in speeches and actions of American leaders. The judgements relayed in historical Scriptures are made to commit humans to proper attitudes in politics and the right worship of God in word and action.
Talking to God
In the context of humanity being agents of God and expected to act based on His will, it poses the challenging question, of how humans connect with God and begin to know what the right path might be. In the Old Testament, the Psalms were written as the collection of prayers that is meant to teach worship and prayer. The Psalter has its own nature and purpose, teaching any faithful on how to intuitively pray and connect with the Spirit (Goldingay 291).
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea” (Psalm 102.17). It is universally considered by theologists that God seeks to build a relationship with every human, and similar to any Earthly relationship, one can only establish one with God through conversation otherwise known as prayer. It is at the same time the greatest privilege but also a failure for many faithful. It is important to note that throughout both the Old and New Testament, the prophets, saints, and disciples relied on prayer consistently for guidance and deliverance.
The Psalms hold many wisdoms in them by retelling some of the greatest stories from church history, offering some guidance, and announcing some of the most important proclamations such as the humans are agents of God on Earth. Psalm 8 goes deeply into the relation between human and God, by mentioning that humanity is valued highly by their creator, especially those suffering at the hands of evil. God is established as a sovereign, but human exercise legitimate rule within the authority and realm of God.
Humans are exalted as the marvel in the magnificence of creation and God would intervene to protect the faithful and overcome all forces that go against God’s will (Guthrie and Quinn 237). Humans are fallible, but even as far as the OT, the relationship between God and humanity is one of love, almost like parent and child. While the symbolism of Father and Son was not developed until Jesus and the New Testament, the foundation was built beforehand for centuries.
Free Will as the Sovereign of God
The relationship built between humans and God is inherently complex, and paradoxical to an extent. There is a compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human free will and they are not mutually exclusive. Despite God’s sovereign control over His domain and creation, human responsibility is not absolved, even if Evil was part of His plan and sin is used for His purposes in His infinite wisdom.
In Isaiah 10.5 it is written, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger/ And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” At close analysis, Assyria is an instrument of God’s judgment that is also being condemned. Assyria is a pagan idolatrous nation that is used to instill divine judgment against the Israelites that are held responsible for their disbelief in Him and idolatry. Despite being used as a tool of divine wrath, the Assyrians are also held responsible for their arrogance and violence in the acts of evil.
This situation from Isaiah accurately describes the relationship that God has with the human world. Although God controls through a divine power and all actions, individual and global go on according to His purpose, it does not remove the culpability of responsibility from evildoers. God’s perception of justice and fairness differs from human ethical guidelines. Humans are judged on both motive in their hearts and action.
It establishes the final block in this complex relationship of duty, love, and worship – and that is obedience and responsibility. Humans are expected to be good and act in goodness, whether they are aware and knowledgeable of God and faith or not. Free will is given to all but the burden of responsibility still stands, and righteousness is expected (Geisler 14-16). Just as humans are made in the image of God, it is expected that humanity will attempt to follow his example of true righteousness and justice despite obvious fallibilities.
Discussion and Summary
In Biblical terms, it can be said that God has developed a stewardship of His creation in humans, and in turn, humans are placed in the position of being stewards of the Earth and ourselves. Steward is a word that is encountered several times in the Bible, taking on the meaning of treating something with care and respect while managing it wisely. Despite being created to “dominate” all living beings, it is rather reminiscent of the Hebrew word for dominion which indicates to take responsibility for the well-being of those in the realm of power. Humans are in the dominion of God just as other living beings are in the dominion of man. God created everything, and it was good.
Humans are good and are blessed by the Lord, and it is the responsibility of humans to practice stewardship, righteousness, and faith in God’s will. Sometimes creation is violated, there is injustice among humans, and often all creation and order suffer. However, it is part of God’s plan, and despite free will, God will enable his order, compassion, or wrath if His will so dictates.
As humans were created in the image of God, so has the relationship between God and human has grown to be overwhelmingly complex. Humanity is both an agent of God’s will as well as a society that is given the free will to live according to His rules and divine providence. God has demonstrated interventionist acts as well as forgiveness and compassion. Humanity is called upon to show obedience but also build a loving connection with God. The Old Testament is inherently darker and more brutal than the New Testament which emphasizes the forgiveness and compassion aspects of the relationship with God. Nevertheless, an exploration of the various elements of the OT have demonstrated that many of the theological foundations to modern Christianity were set in the early years of human existence and civilization.
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Fretheim, Terence E. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. Abingdon Press, 2005.
Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Bethany House, 2010.
Goldingay, John. An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Guthrie, George H., and Russel D. Quinn. “A Discourse Analysis of The Use of Psalm 8:4-6 In Hebrews 2:5-9(1).” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 49, no. 2, 2006, pp. 235-246. Web.
Herzog, Frederick. “Moses in Contemporary Theology.” Union Seminary Review, vol. 44, no. 3, 1990, pp. 253-264. Web.
The Bible. Authorized New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, n.d. Web.