By David Timms
When 2-year-old Sally threw a tantrum in the middle of the store, her mother smiled rather weakly at the other shoppers. We’ve all seen (or shown) that awkward look of helplessness mixed with embarrassment. The young daughter saw a toy she wanted but her mom said, “No.” The histrionics that followed could be heard three blocks away and drew everyone’s attention, causing some folk to tut-tut at this unseemly display of self-
It’s common to assign these immature outbursts to our human nature. We’ve heard it said many times, “If you want to see human weakness in full color, look at the self-centeredness of a child.” But the Bible offers another angle on Sally for us to consider.
In His Image
God designed us for a purpose. The writer of Genesis notes, “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” (1:26, 27).
God made us in his image. Wonderful. What does that mean?
The answer invariably wanders up hill and down dale. People talk about loving, caring, reasoning, communicating, having a conscience, and a dozen other qualities of God.
That may be true, but the text in Genesis speaks of one particular quality of God—the capacity to rule and to reign benevolently, to use power generously to serve others, not ourselves.
When God made Adam and Eve in his own image, his stated purpose was that they might rule—rule over all of creation. He created them to enjoy the experience of dominion (not domination)—to exercise good stewardship over the fish of the sea, to manage the birds in the sky, to govern all creatures in a good and wonder-filled way.
Ruling Each Other
Interestingly, God did not authorize Adam and Eve to rule over each other. He granted them the privilege of stewardship over all creation, but he did not intend the man and the woman to arm wrestle each other for power. Dominion related to all of creation but not to fellow human beings. Only after the fall, after defying the instructions of God, did competition come between the husband and the wife as they vied to control each other.
In Genesis 3:16 the Lord declared to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you.” What a tragic shift from the Lord’s original intention.
Some people wrongly assume this statement declares the Lord’s plan for marriages. “The woman should be affectionate. The husband should take leadership.” But wait. Something deeper comes into play. This word desire appears again in the next chapter (Genesis 4:7) to describe sin’s desire for Cain—a competitive, destructive, hostile desire. It is certainly not an affectionate feeling.
The Lord’s declaration that “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you” did not express his heart or plan. Instead, it simply reflected the new reality Adam and Eve had created for themselves by their sin.
Adam knew the penalty for rebellion against God. “You shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But in a swift side step and an effort to avoid death himself, he shot back to God, ”It was the woman you gave me” (3:12, New Living Translation). Adam was willing to hand over Eve to die and, not surprisingly, she had not warmed to his self-preservation. The outcome? A battle for supremacy has waged between the sexes ever since.
A Steady Biblical Theme
The theme of dominion and rulership—”in-the-image-of-God-ness”—runs from Genesis to Revelation.
The apostle Paul notes that “those who receive the abundance of grace . . . will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17, New American Standard Bible).
The apostle Peter describes the kingdom of God as “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), implying rulership with the word royal. Indeed, for us to be called “sons of God” alludes to the ancient kings of Israel who were known by that title (see Psalm 2:7).
Early in the Revelation, John records that the four living creatures and the 24 elders will sing a new song for eternity that extols Jesus and declares, “You have made them (the people of God) to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:10). The Lamb restores the original plan of Eden.
Then, in the final chapter of the Bible, the seer states again concerning the people of God that “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5). The power struggles of the ages dissipate. Instead, John describes the renewal of the image of God—created to reign and to rule over the glorious re-creation.
Implications for Today
Young Sally’s store aisle tantrum may have displayed selfishness. But more so, it reflected her innate (though undeveloped and immature) sense of dominion. She wanted to rule and to reign over that stuffed toy, but didn’t know how to exercise her “God-imageness” appropriately. Of course, things degenerated further when she tried to rule and reign over her hapless mother. It produced a hard moment. But never has Sally more closely approached one of her glorious creation purposes.
When we think about dominion—one of the core reasons God created us—we must think about the world at large, not other people. Any time we diminish the dominion of others, we violate the image of God within them. It’s natural for us to want to expand our own little kingdoms (clothes, houses, cars, and stuff). But the gospel—the restoration of Eden—calls us to devote ourselves even more so to the kingdom of others (see Philippians 2:3, 4).
In marriages, that means (in part) our refusal to pursue power over each other and our commitment to respect the dominion of each other over particular material items. In families, it means (in part) that gifts to our children are theirs to manage. We move away from language that forces sharing and move toward a more biblical understanding of stewardship. In workplaces, it means (in part) that we value the work and effort of others and resist the competitive desires that might crush them rather than encourage them.
God has created us to rule and reign. It carries with it both privilege and responsibility. Do we reflect his image in the way we manage his gifts?
David Timms teaches at William Jessup University in Rocklin, California.
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