Human Nature: In the Image of God

by Jul 20, 2021

Then God said, “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 heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion…

Genesis 1:26-28a

The first thing God says about humans as He initially creates them is they should have dominion over all the earth and all its creatures. We cannot begin to take dominion over the earth, unless we are first able to identify, understand, and act upon the fixed principles inherent in God’s design. These fixed principles imply there is a fixed nature of things that has been inherent from the beginning and cannot be altered by us. Anything less than correctly understanding and identifying this nature will necessarily lead to failure. To do this investigation and discovery, we must first understand who it is that we are. Thus, we need to confront human nature.

Bearing the Image of God

To begin our exploration of human nature, let us consider what it means that we bear the image of God. One thing it means is that we were created individually with an independent will and thus we are sovereign over ourselves. That is, every person is understood to be someone who is independently valuable and whose singular existence and decision-making skills ought to be respected by everyone else. Beyond this, Genesis instructs us that we share certain attributes in some connection to those possessed by God Himself. Among these are personality, rationality, creativity, purposefulness, emotion, and a conscious awareness of morality.

God Has No Need

In the Scriptures we discover that God is a Trinity. That is, he is one in essence, but three in person—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, the Bible teaches that God is personal and relational. It also presents God to us as thoughtful and knowing. He is most definitely creative and purposeful as evidenced by the act of Creation itself. It should be noted that this action was not motivated by some need in God, but rather by a desire to share himself with creatures capable of entering into a relationship with him. That is, it was God’s plan in creation to have creatures capable of marveling at and enjoying God’s vast goodness and majesty. Moreover, given the infinite nature of God, he created human beings capable of exploring his majesty through all eternity without ever being able to plumb the depths of his being.

Our Limits of Knowledge

Unlike God’s act of creation, which did not arise out of any need in God or tax his power to create, our action does arise out of our need, and it does tax our power since God created us in a limited way. Our biggest need is ultimately to know God in the process of life. While God knows everything there is to know, our capacity to know things is limited and in this fallen world subject to error. To gain knowledge of the world we have to investigate it and discover how things work. Over the course of human history there has been a general accumulation of knowledge, and this has led to all sorts of things that we take for granted today. Past generations could not have dreamed of many of the things that we use daily in the course of our lives.

The Accumulation of Knowledge

Think about it for a moment. How many people 150 years ago thought it would be possible for four hundred people to board a Boeing 747 and fly halfway around the world in a matter of hours? Nevertheless, it is routinely done today because our knowledge of aerodynamics allows us to do it. I recently watched a video of a group of engineers aiming at producing an engine capable of propelling an aircraft at much greater speeds than anything we currently possess today. These engineers believe the aircraft they can design will be able to accomplish the same task of transporting people halfway around the world in a fraction of the current time it takes. What they are doing is simply building off the past accumulation of knowledge to improve our capacity to achieve the ends that we desire.

Beyond our limits in knowing, we are also dependent creatures. To achieve our ends, we can only use the means ready at hand. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve had work to do if they were going to begin the task of taking dominion. While there were fruit trees, they still had to pick the fruit, prepare it, and then eat it. Moreover, they were given the task of tending the garden and reproducing it elsewhere around the world. In addition, I can well imagine that their own creative instincts would motivate them to produce a variety of tools and other products that would be useful in achieving their ends. From their original starting point, they had much to learn, to discover, to try, and to build.

Human Action Has Purpose

The study of economics begins with the observation that all people act with purpose. Thus, human action is aimed at achieving some self-defined end. To achieve that end, the person must use the means at hand. But because we are capable of imagining an increasingly wide variety of ends and the means we have at hand at any moment are insufficient to the achievement of all our potential ends, we must choose how to employ our limited means. As a result, every choice carries with it a cost, which is the end foregone to achieve the most desirable end at the moment of choice. Adam and Eve faced the requirement to choose even before they sinned against God. It was established in the nature of things by God himself.

Why did God set things up this way? I think it was for the purpose of providing an environment in which every act could bring us into a deeper relationship with our Creator. I think God created a material universe and put us in it to explore it, learn about it, create in it, develop new inventions, build houses, plant vineyards, and encounter God’s creation in a new way every day. I think that as we engaged in that activity, he wanted us to find his hand in it and so to be just more fascinated every day by his grandeur. I believe it was his intention that we would daily become more satisfied in him has we flourished and thrived in the world he had made for us.

The Essence of Trade

Consider for a moment the implications of this perspective.  A natural progression of development would ensue from this situation. Adam and Eve initially faced life in a wide-open world. However, as they began to take dominion things would begin to change through a homesteading process. That is, the process necessarily results in taking charge over nature and, thus, creating individual property. The actions of their children and their children’s children would create various forms of property as they individually engaged in their productive activities. These activities would include developing new vineyards and gardens, building houses, and creating useful tools of various sorts.

Moreover, given that people are naturally endowed with different talents, skills, and proclivities, there would be a wider and wider array of this property. The differences between people and products would result in an increasingly wide array of mutually beneficial trading opportunities. To actually engage in trade, people would naturally have to possess an excess of something that was desired by others if they were going to engage in the trading process.

Property Before the Fall

While we cannot know exactly what the world was like prior to the fall, we do know that it was going to be far easier for people to successfully achieve their desired ends. Nature was going to cooperate with man in the process. Work was not going to involve the sweat of one’s brow or thorns and thistles. Instead, work was going to be rewarding and would lead to lasting results. As far as we know, in its original formation there were not going to be tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other forms of natural destruction. Moreover, there was not going to be rot and decay. These came about after the fall when God cursed the ground. Thus, as originally designed the process of property creation and the expansion of production and trade would lead to a continual condition of material and spiritual betterment in a wider and wider variety of ways.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.


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