At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Is The Image of God An Engine of Economic Progress?


On Tuesday, Dr. Anne Bradley outlined four essential elements to economic progress. Human beings are the engines of this economic progress, and it turns out that the Bible has a lot to say about this role we’ve been given. Where does our ability to create economic progress come from?

Engines Made In the Image of God

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” read the Bible’s opening verses. Genesis 1 goes on to describe God creating everything over the course of a workweek. At the end of each day, Genesis says, “God saw that it was good.”

The sixth day starts like the previous ones, with God saying, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind.” But then there is an encore.

Rather than simply saying, “Let there be,” Genesis records God saying,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. 

Then God blesses the man and the woman, giving them what theologians refer to as the cultural mandate:

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over it…and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. 

Where Genesis 1 gives the cosmic overview, the second chapter zooms in tight. God fashions man from the ground, breathes into him the breath of life, and puts him in the garden “to till it and keep it.”

We aren’t ghosts trapped in bodies. We’re made of dirt, we’re made to work with dirt – and yet we have in us the very breath of God. Work itself is part of God’s original blessing, not his curse after the fall. We are a unique mixture of heaven and earth, so the way we work should reflect the fact that we are a unity of matter and spirit, neither pack animals nor angels.

The idea of the image of God – the imago dei – has given theologians gainful employment for two thousand years. In the text, God is acting as the sovereign King over the heavens and the earth. This Divine King, in turn, appoints us to have dominion as kings and queens over the tiny parts of creation we can affect. All our creativity comes from God. As Creator, God has made us creators.

We learn more about the image of God in the first chapter of John, which parallels Genesis 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him…

Before everything else, there was mind, reason, Logos. It was through this Logos that God created everything.

Though these biblical texts are not drawn from an economic textbook, they cast light on the most important truth of economics. With our hands and our minds, we can create wealth, and in the right circumstances, that human-generated wealth becomes the basis of more wealth. We are made in the image of the Creator God, so we should expect this of ourselves.

The History of Our Role In Economic Progress

Humans were created and first roamed the earth as hunters and gatherers. Then they began to domesticate sheep and cattle. They cultivated plants such as wheat and barley. These farmers started with what God had provided – seeds, land, rain, animals – and enriched it.

Today, economists list the three factors of production as land, labor, and capital. After man developed ways to store food and irrigate land, cities appeared with growing populations not directly tied to agriculture.

As recently as 1900, eighty percent of the world’s population was still on farms. That number had dropped to 50 percent by the 1970s. With solid private property laws and high technology, less than two percent of the American population now lives on farms, and yet they produce enough to feed the American population and export food abroad. Most of history was marked by scarcity. We now live amid both great scarcity and great abundance.

What’s more, most of the vast new wealth created in our economy derives not from land, however, but from intellectual capital, information, and technology. This hints at a startling trend. Over time, we can create more and more wealth with less and less matter.

We don’t know if these growth rates will continue indefinitely. But we have no reason to think that our ability to create new wealth will come to a halt tomorrow. New wealth comes not from matter alone, but from how we represent, inform, and transform matter – from the mind.

This most profound truth of economics is just what Christians should expect, since we know that each of us is created in the image of God.

This post was adapted from the book Indivisible.

What do you think the Bible says about humanity’s role as the engine of economic progress? Where does that ability come from? Leave your comments here

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  • RogerMcKinney

    We have always been created in the image of God, but economic development didn’t begin until the industrial revolution. We need something more to explain the hockey stick effect of economic growth.

    • Soul Collector

      Giving to the poor leads to abundance.
      Ultimately its God who blesses the land with good rain and raises the farms. For those who are righteous he does not destroy the whole nation, if they were none righteous he would just destroy every farm and cause droughts, which does happen in other nations. It is God who gives power to make wealth. He blesses and curses. Ultimately God is in the hierarchy and controls everything, he sees the individual.

      • Roger McKinney

        That was the theology before we learned economics. But just as God doesn’t directly cause the rain and sun, but does so through the laws of physics which he created, so wealth comes about by nations applying his principles regarding property and markets. Non-Christians, such as the Japanese, and most Americans and Europeans have become rich following those principles.

        The world didn’t discover those principles until the 16th century. From prehistory to 1600 standards of living were almost identical. Then, beginning in 1600 in the Dutch Republic, standards of living began to rocket. Today, the West is 30 times wealthier than in 1600 and some of the rest of the world is catching up.

        • Soul Collector

          Ummm pretty sure he causes the rain directly, Physics is the observance of the action taking place. Its the understanding of how the invisible works.

          • Roger McKinney

            So you think rain is a miracle? At least since the Church invented modern science Christians have understood the natural world as operating like a clock that God created and wound up but works pretty much on its own.

          • Soul Collector

            It is suppose to be natural.I would see a man able to control weather as a miracle.For example if I or another person declared something from what was otherwise predicted.Lets say Elijah for example he had the power to hold the rain and did so till he prayed that God let it rain again.

  • Soul Collector

    Regardless if we are made in Gods image, he is greater than us and does as he wills. Even if we recognize ourselves as creators he will make himself known as the King of all creation.

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