Human beings were made to seek meaning.
This isn’t the standard narrative in our culture, of course. The widely-held narrative is something else entirely, one of maximum choice and minimum meaning.
Maximum Choice, Minimum Meaning
In a Wall Street Journal article on religious wars, writer Jonathan Sacks explains the culture’s dominant ethos. He writes that by the end of the twentieth century,
[The] age of the true believer, religious or secular, was over. In its place had come the market economy and the liberal democratic state, in which individuals and their right to live as they chose took priority over all creeds and codes.
Science, technology, the free market and liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.
But secularists have forgotten that people are meaning-seeking creatures. Sacks declares:
If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning…. They do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.
A minimum of meaning is not what God intends for our lives.
Covered with the Fingerprints of God
Even a casual reading of Genesis 1 makes it clear that God’s original intent for human beings was to create them in a certain way, in his image, in order to fulfill a specific purpose.
This purpose is what gives meaning to our lives. C.S. Lewis begins A Preface to Paradise Lost with these words:
The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is – what it was intended to be and do and how it is meant to be used.
So what does it mean to be created in God’s image? Understanding this will help us understand what we are “intended to be” and how we are “meant to be used.”
Theologian Wayne Grudem says that in Hebrew, the words used in Genesis 1:26-27, “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demut), “refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing that it represents or is the ‘image of’.” Therefore, Genesis 1:26, “would have meant to the original leaders, ‘Let us make man to be like us and to represent us’.”
The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for “image of God” – imago Dei – means image, shadow, or likeness of God. You are a snapshot, a facsimile, of God.
At the very least, this means men and women occupy a higher place in the created order because they alone are imprinted with godlike characteristics.
The Path to Your Greatest Fulfillment
Your god-likeness is the path to your greatest fulfillment. You will feel the greatest pleasure and wholeness when the person God made you to be is fully developed and expressed. To be fully human is to fully reflect God’s creative, spiritual, intelligent, communicative, relational, moral, and purposeful capacities.
Volumes have been written over the centuries by scholars trying to answer questions about what it means to be made in God’s image, but the majority of them agree on several things. It means:
- We were made to be relational beings who have the ability to reason, understand right and wrong, and use creativity to solve problems.
- We can operate in our own self-interest to improve our situations.
- We were created for a purpose and are driven to make decisions that move us toward our goals in fulfilling that purpose.
The first calling to fill the earth with God’s images and exercise dominion over it informs the nature and purpose of our existence. This is what we were created to do. We were made to do it in order to fulfill God’s desire to see flourishing for all he has created.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be looking specifically at what it means to be made in God’s image and the practical implications it has for everything we do, especially our work.