Michael Huerter finishes his series responding to The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology, edited by Beth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016). See Part 1 of Michael’s explorations here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.
In this series, we have explored how each of our varied perspectives is valuable to the conversation about what it means to be faithful image-bearers of God. We have grappled with the tension of engaging with and being a part of culture, and recognized our responsibility both to be open to the goodness that is present and comes from God and to speak God’s truth in a world that is moving in the wrong direction. We have received encouragement from Jesus’ saving role as the true image of God, into whose likeness we are being shaped. We have also been reminded of the incredible potential and very real sinfulness of humanity, and the importance of holding these two realities together as we live in the world. All of these ideas have the potential to impact the way we understand ourselves, treat others, and go about our daily lives. However, in this final post I want to focus on our responsibility as witnesses to God’s kingdom, and how our educational and vocational pursuits ought to be integrated with that call.
As someone who is involved in ministry vocationally, I have found that I have an interesting perspective on how many in the church understand the significance of work and its intersection with faith. I have encountered something of a double standard relating to the value of work for people who are in ministry positions and for believers involved in “secular professions.” For those who are working in the church, work and call seem to coincide. For others, however, their work may not be perceived as ministry, witness, or of any real significance for the kingdom of God. I think the imago Dei offers us another way of understanding human work and its value in God’s eyes.
If all human beings bear the image of God, though flawed by sin, and if Jesus reveals that image perfectly and transforms us toward bearing it faithfully ourselves, then what is the meaning of human work? Christians have the privilege of looking to the Bible to give us guidance and to inform our world view, and we already are doing this by seeking to understand the meaning of the phrase “the image of God” found in Genesis. This is one side of the meaning of human work: we are to care for and rule over creation in ways that honor God and the good things God has made.
To add to this, we will move from the Bible’s first book to its last. Revelation 21 and 22 describe God’s consummated new creation, when Christ returns to fulfill the reign of God’s kingdom on earth and make all things new. The New Jerusalem is described as the centerpiece of this heavenly vision on earth, but if we read carefully we find suggestions that there is still work to be done, still tasks God wishes to accomplish through God’s people for the blessing of creation. The gates of the New Jerusalem are always open, and the kings and peoples of all the nations bring their glory and splendor to the city. The tree of life is there, and it bears leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:2). There is more that can be examined here, but Revelation seems to imply that the new creation will include work that God’s people will do for the purpose of the flourishing of all God has made, the shalom found in Genesis. Work is not just something we trudge through in this life to discard in the next; our work now is connected to the stewarding of Eden and the eschatological healing of the nations. Our work has the potential to leave an eternal impact for the kingdom of God.
As image-bearers for God, we are given the privilege of joining in God’s work in the world. This will take numerous forms, as the life of each believer contributes to the manifold witness of God’s coming reign of peace and abundant life. As we come face to face with the evil in the world, we are called to live in the truth that life is precious, that God’s creatures are bearers of great purpose and glory to come. As we seek out the depths of mystery in God’s creation and pursue knowledge and understanding, we bring glory to the Creator whose craft surpasses all we can know. As we develop skills to steward, to create, to communicate, we are being drawn into our identity as bearers of God’s image. Your studies and your work are of great value to God, and God desires to use them for the kingdom.